For Weight Loss, the Right Kind of Support Can Be Critical

Workout GroupAddressing weight issues, especially when it involves others like family, friends or co-workers, is always a delicate matter. Asking for support can be difficult, and trying to be helpful can easily backfire.

Asking Others to Join in Your Diet and Lifestyle Changes
Can Be a Source of Conflict and Resentment

Research has shown that the attitude of loved ones has enormous influence on people’s weight loss efforts, both positive and negative. Encouragement and genuine support are essential components for success. On the other hand, criticism, even if meant to be constructive, can do serious harm. So can sabotage and non-cooperation.

For example, one recent study found that urging a partner to go on a diet, even when done with the best of intentions, can lead to serious eating disorders. Almost half of the participants in this study reported that they were more likely to engage in binge eating, bulimia and other dysfunctional behavior around food when they felt challenged by significant others to lose weight.

Fear of rejection and being found unattractive leads especially women to take sometimes drastic and ultimately counterproductive steps in response to outside pressures.

In the workplace, corporate health and fitness programs are becoming increasingly popular, and they can indeed offer many benefits, including promoting team spirit and lowering healthcare costs. But if they are imposed in ways that make overweight employees feel disadvantaged and even discriminated against, they can quickly overreach.

In any situation, it can be hard to make one’s personal needs known, particularly when they conflict with those of others who will also be affected. No one wants to be a spoiler or the weakest link everyone else has to be considerate of.

For instance, it can be very difficult when only one member of the family, or any other group or partnership, is trying to change his or her eating habits, and the rest either doesn’t have to or doesn’t want to, says Linda Spangle, a nutrition counselor and author of “100 Days of Weight Loss” (SunQuest Media, 2006) to WebMD in an interview on the subject.

Asking for support can also be tricky if you are not quite sure what kind of help you actually want and would find useful. Stop and think about what you really expect in terms of support, then take pen to paper and write your “in a perfect world” list, Spangle suggests. This list should consist of ways others could lend a hand in your quest for a healthier you.

Ideally, not just you but everybody around you should be able to benefit from your actions. So instead of isolating yourself or forcing others to join you, it is advisable to point out how positive eating and lifestyle changes can benefit everyone.

For example, you don’t want to ask your family to give up certain favorites because they interfere with your diet program, but rather discuss how eating more healthily and becoming more active can improve the health and well-being of all members. Or, instead of avoiding your colleagues at lunch hour or after-work get-togethers, you can suggest getting more physical exercise such as walking, bicycling or playing team sports – together. You may discover that your co-workers, too, can use some nudging and may even thank you for it.

Good communication is always key when you request help, Spangle advises. Be as specific as you can. Don’t just say, “Be nice to me,” or, “Help me.” Instead, clearly state what you want others to do or not do in your presence.

If you are the only one who needs or wants to make changes, be aware of the potential consequences and give those around you enough space, so they don’t feel inconvenienced and imposed upon. At the same token, stand up for yourself and don’t lose sight of your goals, whether they are seconded by anyone else or not.

Also, keep in mind that different relationships in your life can play different roles. Not everyone has to fit into the same scheme. Your choice of going to the gym early in the morning doesn’t mean your spouse has to jump out of bed with you. Buddy-up with someone who has similar habits or follows a similar schedule.

What matters most is that you can draw strength from your surroundings, not resistance. Losing weight and keeping it off is hard enough without having to fight for it or suffering setbacks caused by others.

If you liked this article, you may also enjoy reading “Sometimes the Best Way to Lose Weight Is a Change in Venue.”

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