The Holidays are Gone but the Weight Isn’t

Being with friends and family – most often around big meals and rich treats – is one of the things we love about the holiday season. Then comes the new year when we start thinking about losing all of those extra pounds. And then come commercials and articles about diets, weight loss drugs and the latest healthy cooking gadgets.

For example, U.S. News & World Report releases annual rankings of diet programs every year. What distinguishes these diets? Why do dieters find so much more success with them?

My theory: while calorie counting is critical to the success of any diet, the real difference in success or failure can be found in social support.

The psychology behind social support

The Weight Watchers program emphasizes the use of friends, family, and group meetings with other dieters to accomplish weight loss goals. Because vegetarianism is a way of life for many people, those trying a vegetarian diet can find ample support through active social groups, vegetarian restaurants, and much more. Studies show that women who involve friends and family in lifestyle changes are more likely to stick to them.

This social support phenomenon is best explained by a theory used in psychology, education, and public health called social cognitive theory. It basically states that changing a behavior involves not just knowing what to do (cognitive factors) but also environmental and social factors. If your environment is not ideal, such as having a ton of high-calorie foods in the fridge, it will be that much harder to start and stick to a healthy diet. If you have others around you who support your decisions to eat healthier, it will be that much easier to stick to your goals long term.

Build a support team

Teams look different for everyone but they all have one thing in common, people who are involved in setting and reaching personal goals.

Here are several easy ways to build a support system for yourself:

  • Have a heart-to-heart. Sit down with your family and explain to them your personal health goals. Emphasize the importance of your plan and the need for support.
  • Do it together. Create a healthy eating plan with your family. Shopping for the same healthy foods and eating the same healthy meals together makes the transition much easier.
  • Get inspired. Find a friend or relative that has successfully lost weight in the past or is in the process of successfully losing weight. Use that person as a role model. Get their advice and listen to the pitfalls they experienced. And remember, if they can do it, you can do it.
  • Get a partner. Challenge a friend to set weight-loss goals with you. Exchange healthy recipe ideas, go on walks together, and confide in one another if you’re having trouble sticking to the plan.
  • Use accountability. Ask your partner or a friend to hold you accountable for completing your goals for those days you just don’t feel like sticking to your plan. Having another person help.
  • Get help. Often we feel we are incapable of making change because we don’t have the skill set. Consider involving a nutritionist, personal trainer, or physician to obtain your healthy eating goals. Having a professional on your team can increase your confidence in making the right choices.

Don’t give up

The most important part of trying to change your eating lifestyle is to not give up. Change is hard, but with a group of supports, it will be that much easier.

Until next time!

Stephanie Coulter, MD