Social Support: A Missing Component in Weight Loss

It’s amazing how big of a component social support is in our lives, especially when we’re trying to reach a goal. We don’t realize how much of an influence our closest friends and family have on how successful (or unsuccessful) we are in certain endeavors.

When it comes to lifestyle changes for weight loss, social support is often the missing link in someone’s journey. The lack of support is something I’ve seen time and time again over the years with my clients and class participants. It’s astonishing how many people are sabotaged (consciously or unconsciously) by the people closest to them, who should be their biggest cheerleaders. 

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve trained people that are legitimately trying to change their eating habits whose partners buy junk food and have it all throughout their kitchen. This is akin to stocking the fridge with booze in the home of an alcoholic who’s trying to quit drinking.

There are people that are ready to make a difference in their life, shelling out money for fitness classes, personal training, or nutrition coaching telling me about their family members or close friends who make fun of them for trying to better themselves.

If you’re struggling in your health goals, it’s time to ask yourself,

“Am I getting real support from my closest friends/family members?”


Step 1: Find out what you need.

It’s really hard to make habit changes in your life, especially when you’ve tried and felt like you’ve failed multiple times. Once you’ve made the decision to change things for the better, you may have to talk with those closest to you about what you’re going to need from them in order to meet your goals. Likely, you’ve bonded with these folks over your past behaviors, so now that you’re changing things up, they may or may not understand or want to be a part of it.

The tricky part though: Do you even know what you need? Sometimes, writing it down — actually putting it into words — helps, before you talk to your people. Here are some questions to ask yourself about what you might need:

  • What is your action plan? (More home cooked meals, more outside time, re-working your budget so you can sign up for a gym membership, trading child care so you can get to the grocery or gym more often?)
  • Do you want your people to be involved or give you space?
  • Who are the ones you most need help from? (Spouse, parent, child, best friend, roommate?)


Step 2: Realize ‘support’ means different things to different people.

Different personality types see support as different things for various reasons. Those who have been ridiculed for being overweight might need to do things all on their own in order to have some peace during their process. Some who have always been alone during their struggles might need a friend to cook with every now and then, or somebody to walk with a couple nights a week. There are several ways to get/give support. Think about what’s gotten in your way in the past and how you can ask for help in the days ahead. Here are some ways you can get/give support:

  • Childcare. This is huge. Maybe try a childcare trade with a friend so you can get your workouts in once or twice a week.
  • Cooking help. Check out a cook book from the library and make one new meal a week with a friend or your family. If you can afford it, try a subscription meal service (so you learn some cooking skills).
  • Trying different ways of being social. Instead of going out to eat to catch up with a friend, try taking a walk in the park instead, where kids and pets could attend too.
  • Offer words of encouragement or be there to listen. Being there to chat/vent to occasionally can be a big help.
  • Inviting your family members or coworkers to join you in your new quest to eat healthier or move more often.
  • Financial help to get some professional guidance. Could you cut out cable for a few months and use that money to pay for a gym membership or nutritionist?


Step 3: Ask for what you need.

Get together your closest friends, roommates, or family members and let them know your plan, what you may need help with, and ask if they’re willing to help and support you through the coming days. This may be a tough conversation to have, but life changes and habit changes are hard. Having help is important and often imperative. You may not be comfortable talking about this with some people, but if you can’t have a serious conversation like this with them, maybe they aren’t the best to have around you at this time. Here’s a sample game plan:

  1. Set up a time to chat in your home or any other spot where you feel most at ease.
  2. Lay out your plan for what you’d like to accomplish.
  3. Ask if they’d like to be involved or not.
  4. Let them know what you need, whether it’s involvement or alone time to focus.
  5. Repeat with as many people as you need.


Step 4: Realize who is not helping & continue without them.

This part is hard. There may be people that have been in your life for longer than you can remember who are contributing to the habits that moved you further away from your goals. Many of my own clients have been sabotaged in their fitness or nutrition goals by their own immediate family members: People whose parents won’t stop nagging them about their weight, whose siblings make fun of them when they try to make a change, or whose spouses carry on unhealthy behaviors in the same household every day. Ask yourself these questions about the people closest to you:

  • Have they ever made fun of you for trying to make positive change in your life? Examples: Chastising you for joining a gym, eating healthier food, buying/wearing workout clothes.
  • Do they they try to talk you into doing things you’re specifically trying to avoid? Examples: talking you into eating fast food, skipping your workout to lay on the couch, continuing smoking/drinking, staying up late so you miss your morning workout the next day.
  • Have they publicized your efforts in a negative way? Examples: Telling mutual friends or family members about your plan or how it probably won’t work.

If you’ve said yes to any or all of these, this person is trying to sabotage you and you need to deal with it one of two ways:

  1. Have a “come to Jesus” talk with them and try to find out why they’re acting this way — they may or may not realize they’re doing it. They may also be jealous that you’re in better place than they are. Talk it out and come up with a solution on how to move forward.
  2. Let them know that you don’t appreciate how they’re treating you, that you’ve got to prioritize your health, and that maybe you need to do that without them for a while. See how they react. If they really care about you, they’ll help. If they don’t, they’ll likely get defensive, blame you, or try to make you feel as if you’re harming them (classic victim mentality). Drop them. If you happen to be stuck with a person who is is a negative influence, like a spouse or family member, perhaps it’s a good idea to seek out counseling for some help, or come up with a plan to leave.

Step 5: Be A Beast

Once you’ve got your people on your side, get to work and light it up. Remember that you have the power to control your actions and you can make healthy changes one step at a time. You’ve got this.

Whether your goal is fitness, financial, professional or other, support from your loved ones matters.

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