Tag Archives: success

Weight loss “frenemies”: How the people around you can support–and sabotage–your weight loss.

Anyone who has tried to lose weight, quit smoking, or make another behavior change knows that having the support of family and friends is a key to success. Additionally, having a “buddy” to go through the process with can help keep you motivated, leading to greater success now and in the long run.

However, a lack of support can make these changes even more difficult. Some people even encounter behavior by friends and family members that directly interferes with their efforts, something that seems to be more common among women than men.

This is the topic of my Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard this week.


Social support has long been recognized as a key component of group exercise, weight loss, and smoking cessation programs. This support can be both real and perceived. Family, friends, co-workers, and others who directly or indirectly offer support and encouragement are obvious examples. But research shows that even thinking that you have the support of others can boost your chances of success.

Group weight loss programs are popular because they provide accountability, positive role models, and practical advice in a supportive environment. From my perspective as a weight loss researcher, the group dynamic is a major reason people stick with a program when they otherwise might not. In fact, research supports the idea that programs with a group component tend to be more effective over time. Not wanting to “let the group down” keeps many participants focused and on track. While guilt isn’t the best reason for continuing a weight loss program, it can be an effective motivator for some people to reach their goal.

Group support can also make up for support that may be lacking from other people. Some dieters find that the people around them are unsupportive. This can include comments (“seeing you eat healthy makes me feel guilty!”), being excluded from activities because the person is on a diet, and direct sabotage of the person’s efforts by encouraging them to stray from their diet. Participants of group programs report that support from other members helps them get past these barriers.

Even with strong support from others making the same lifestyle changes, the assistance of friends, family, and coworkers is essential. Some support is relatively simple to provide and includes making positive comments and encouragement. A simple acknowledgement of the effort a dieter has been making goes a long way. Sometimes others may see changes before the person losing weight notices any progress. This feedback can be especially motivating.

Other forms of support may be more challenging. For example, if one member of a family is trying to lose weight, the rest of the family may need to alter their habits as well to accommodate changes in eating and exercise. Others can contribute by helping a dieter shop for healthier food, prepare meals, and find time for exercise. Sadly, missing this support is a frequent reason why people are unable to realize long-term weight loss success. The bottom line is that those close to someone who is trying to improve their health can be influential, both positively and negatively, in their success.

If you are trying to lose weight, look for people who can provide support, whether that is encouragement or actual assistance. If you know someone who is on a diet, try to be a source of support for them. Complimenting them on their progress and encouraging them to continue is a good start. At the very least, don’t do or say things that make their health improvement process more difficult. Best of all, you can play along with them—chances are, you could benefit from eating better and getting more exercise!

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Breaking the chain: What you can do to prevent a relapse in your diet or exercise program.

Making changes to diet and exercise habits for weight loss or to improve health and fitness are among the most difficult behavior modifications to make. Being able to change these behaviors now and in the future is a key to success. Since what we eat and our activity become habitual, many people have spent years developing bad habits, so it will take time and effort to change them.

Making lasting changes—think years, not weeks or months—means that these behaviors must be maintained, and success depends on much more than simply following a diet or exercise program. Perhaps the most important tool for promoting long-term behavior change is relapse prevention.

A lapse is a one-time or short-term “slip up” in making a behavior change. For example, a bad day or even a bad week following a diet is considered a lapse. A relapse is a lapse that is continued for so long that you have essentially gone back to your previous behaviors, what some might call “falling off the wagon.” Since getting back on is so difficult, your goal should be to stay on the wagon by preventing a lapse from becoming a relapse. This is the topic of my Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard this week.

breaking the chain

No one is perfect, so lapses will naturally occur. While we often think that lapses occur without warning, the reality is that these events are often the last link in a chain of behaviors. This is illustrated by Barbara, a participant in one of my weight loss programs.

After several weeks of success on her diet Barbara faced her first real challenge, attending a catered event after work. She was rushed in the morning getting her kids ready for school and she didn’t have time for her usual breakfast. She settled for a banana and coffee, but she was hungry by midmorning. She spent her lunch break running errands. Instead of grabbing something unhealthy to eat while she was out, she didn’t eat anything. After a busy afternoon, she was tired and hungry when it was time to go to the event. She made her way to the food table and filled a small plate with the healthiest options she could find. But she wound up standing near the food talking to friends, and she ended up filling her plate a few more times with the very things she meant to avoid at first, including desserts.

Barbara’s story is a perfect example of a lapse, both because it is so common and because it demonstrates the chain of events leading up to it. The lapse—overeating at the party—actually started much earlier in the day. Not having her normal, filling breakfast and skipping lunch meant that Barbara was unusually hungry when she arrived at the party. And standing near the food table made it easy for her to go back for seconds (and thirds). Barbara was able to identify the links in the chain that led to the lapse in her diet, allowing her to get back on track the next day and make efforts to break those links in the future.

Like Barbara, recognizing the steps that lead up to a lapse in your diet or exercise program can help you avoid a slip-up in the first place and prevent a lapse from becoming a relapse. In many ways, long-term success is as much about building confidence in your ability to handle difficult situations as it is the number on the scale or the time you spend in the gym.

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