Two's Company: Why Enlisting Friends on Your Weight Loss Journey Can Help You Succeed

Humans are social beings, and we tend to perform better when we have group support. That's especially apparent in weight loss, according to a 2011 Weight Watchers study. Researchers from Britain's Medical Research Council compared patients whose doctors referred them to Weight Watchers groups with those who were simply put on a standard weight loss plan. Those following the group program had more than twice the success rate of the dieters who tried to lose weight solo.

Research Backs Group Success

These results aren't an anomaly, as many different studies have yielded similar findings. For example, according to Reader's Digest, a study of postmenopausal women found that those who were given information and advice on healthy living only lost one pound in a year, compared to five pounds for women who got the same information in individual or group sessions where they also received support.

Going to more meetings means more weight loss, according to another study. Researchers from the New York Obesity Research Center found that participants who used a weight loss program with group support lost more weight during their first year than people on weight loss plans who were doing it alone.

You can also recruit friends, family members, or even co-workers to join you on your weight loss journey and reap similar benefits. According to Reader's Digest,  University of Pennsylvania researchers followed people who recruited three family members or friends to lose weight with them or who embarked on a program by themselves. Only 76 percent of the solo dieters completed their programs, compared with 95 percent of those doing it with support. Ten months later, 66 percent of the group dieters had maintained their weight loss, while only 24 percent of the lone participants had done so.

The Power of Peer Pressure

There are many reasons behind the increased success rates for those losing weight with the strength of a supportive group behind them. One reason is peer pressure and wanting to please other members of the group. Fans of The Biggest Loser are familiar with this dynamic, but it plays out the same in everyday life.

This concept was demonstrated in the extreme by a 2013 study by University of Michigan researchers. They combined the power of the group with cash incentives and found that participants were more success at shedding pounds when rewards were based on the whole group's performance.

Even if no reward is involved, just being among other people can be inspiration enough. For example, if you're exercising at home alone with a DVD, it's easy to just hit "stop" and give up if you're feeling a little tired. It's much harder to slack off in an exercise class or to admit total defeat by walking out. Instead, you often find that extra little bit of motivation deep down inside you to finish the routine.

Plenty of Support Options

The American Psychological Association (APA) recognizes the power of group support and recommends several ways to find it. The first is through a commercial group like Weight Watchers or a more informal support group. Both work, but the APA notes that those in commercial programs tend to lose more weight than those in the less formal support groups.

Groups run by doctors, therapists, nutritionists, and other professionals were also cited as effective ways to get support. They may be more effective than a commercial group because there's more opportunity for individual attention, but this hasn't been proven through research.  Another option here is individual coaching run by a credible organization with certified trained coaches. 

If you do well with a "tough love" approach, the APA says that a method called the Trevose Behavior Modification Program is very effective. It's a free program with a hard-core, confrontation approach, and one study showed that participants lost an average of 19 percent of their body weight. You're forced to meet your goals or be kicked out of the group, so only choose this option if you're able to handle that. The study found that after two years, about half of the initial participants had dropped out, although those who stayed maintained most of their weight loss.

The APA acknowledges that you can put together your own social support network of family and friends and enjoy great success. If you're not able to attend group meetings and have trouble linking up with others in person, plenty of websites have supportive forums.You can draw inspiration from others who've already won the battle, and you can link up with diet buddies who are at the same stage as you. Some of the more popular sites include MyFitnessPal and SparkPeople.

Taking It Public

Journaling helps with many emotional journeys like weight loss, and if you're comfortable doing so, you can share your experiences online as yet another way to get group support, as well as to inspire others. One of the best examples is Ben Davis of Little Rock, Arkansas. Davis shared his story online and lost 120 pounds by seeking support from those around him. You can read his inspiring tale on his Tumblr account.

Of course, you don't have to go public with your own weight loss journey. All it takes is linking up with others, whether it's in person, an online community, a coach, or a combination of the these. Involve others in your plans and see how much more quickly those excess pounds drop off as the support fuels your success.

By Barbara Nefer, WebPsychology

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