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Social Support is a Necessary Aspect of Weight Loss

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By Dr. Dawn M. Sweet

Social support is the emotional and sometimes physical support offered by friends and family. And it is an important and necessary component of successful weight loss.  

Accomplishing goals of any kind does not happen in vacuum, particularly weight loss. Having a supportive network of friends, family, and healthcare providers can be the difference in whether weight loss goals are realized or not. Because eating is a social activity — meeting with friends and family for happy hour after work and weekend dinners and barbeques — it is important to share your weight loss goals with your social network so that they can be there to help you navigate the challenges.

Building Your Support Social Support Network

Building your social support network may sound daunting, but it is not as difficult as you may think. The first step is to share with your family and friends that you are working on building healthier eating habits and increasing your physical activity level. Tell them that you would appreciate their support and invite them to join you in your journey. For example, you could ask your spouse or significant other or friend to go for a walk with you after dinner or invite friends over for dinner and ask each person to bring one healthy dish to share.

Along the way you may encounter some slight pushback. For example, a friend or family member may express sadness or disappointment because you are declining their prize-winning cheesecake or their truly amazing homemade pizza. Although these situations may be awkward, remind them that you are committed to changing your eating habits. Offer them concrete, actionable strategies such as coming over to make a reduced calorie cheesecake or a healthier dessert that becomes your special dessert. It’s important to tell our support network what we need.

Another way to build social support is by joining a local weight loss group. Sometimes local hospitals or community centers have support groups for those who are changing their eating behaviors. You can even invite your friends and family to join you. If there are no social support groups in your community, perhaps you could start one.

What Does Social Support Look Like?

Social support can come in a few forms:

Emotional Support: Sometimes we need a friend to talk to or a shoulder to cry on. Losing weight can be a roller coaster of ups and downs. Adjusting to a new eating pattern or exercise routine can be stressful or it can feel overwhelming. It is important to have someone with whom you can talk through your successes and challenges. Having others to lean on can lighten our load.

Logistical or Practical Support: Having a friend or family member who can help with childcare so you can go to an exercise class is invaluable. Asking a friend to take a healthy cooking class with you or go for a weekly hike or take an exercise class are also examples of social support. Social support is not always big, grand gestures. Sometimes social support is as low-key as going for walk with a friend after dinner.

Social Support Holds Us Accountable: When we give voice to our weight loss goals, we are “putting it out there” that we want to lose weight and create a healthier lifestyle. When others know our goals, they can check in and hold us accountable for following through on our plans. Our support network can help us stay motivated to stay on track and reach our goals.

Information Sharing: We are unlikely to encounter a friend or family member who has not, at some point in their lives, tried to lose weight. Your social support network has different perspectives and experiences to share that can help inform the decisions you make and the actions you take as you work toward reaching your weight loss goals.

Keep Connected: It is important to stay connected to our family and friends. They can be a source of inspiration and motivation for us to stay the course and stay on track with our weight loss goals. A byproduct of staying connected to our support network may be a friendly competition to see who could reach certain health goals first. While your support network may be a source of inspiration for you, you are also a source of inspiration and motivation for them.

Achieving goals is not a solitary endeavor. It is important to build a social support network who will provide the emotional and practical support you need while holding you accountable. It is important to have a support network who can share your successes and setbacks with. While weight loss is certainly about living life at a healthier weight, it is also about building healthy, sustainable habits in conjunction with your support network who is there to nurture and help you meet success.

 

About the Author: Dr. Dawn M. Sweet has over 20 years of experience in the field of communication. Dr. Sweet has given several invited talks to and workshops for academic and private sector audiences on the role of nonverbal and verbal communication in achieving positive outcomes and mitigating bias. Her research has been published in several top ranked peer-review journals, and it has been featured on NPR’s River to River / All Things Considered, Buzzfeed, and Science Daily. Her research has also been used to inform expert testimony.

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