Jul - Aug 2015

Friends Help Carry the Burden of Losing Weight

By Emily York, PhD and Dale Veith, PsyD


There’s nothing like dragging yourself home after a bad day to a supportive spouse or family member who is there to encourage you. That’s why for every person who succeeds in losing a significant amount of weight, there is usually a person or group of people in support roles who have helped them to reach their goals. It’s no coincidence that people who get the most support often report that they lose more weight with less effort.


The point is that having your team of friends and relatives on board once you decide to lose the weight can offer you a big helping hand.


That’s because having social support is very important when trying to change behaviors. People with inadequate social support, tend to have higher rates of chronic diseases and are more likely to struggle with depression, anxiety, and stress. Following extreme weight loss, different types of support can be helpful during different phases of the process.


For instance, bariatric surgical patients right after surgery often feel very overwhelmed. They usually only want to be provided with the informational tools they need to get through this period. As the weight starts to come off, patients often need emotional support to deal with the way weight loss changes how others interact with them. Then as patients near their target weight, fears about gaining weight can lead them to test the limits of their surgery (i.e., “Can the surgery protect me from this food?”). But at this time, many patients may experience a sudden decline in support as people get used to the “new” version of them and stop making as many supportive comments.  However, during this phase, it is important for those providing social support to remember that the patient is still working really hard to stick with it and needs their recognition and encouragement.


If losing weight were easy, having a social support system wouldn’t be so important. But losing weight is challenging and you need all the help you can get. The following steps can be helpful in increasing your social support: 1) Define the type of support needed, 2) figure out who can provide the support and discuss diet, exercise, and weight management goals with them, 3) tell each of them how they can specifically help, and 4) find ways to express appreciation and reinforce people who are providing support. It is also very important to have conversations with unsupportive family members or friends about ways that they can be more helpful. When having these conversations, it is important to say what you mean without being too aggressive. One strategy to help with this is to use “I” statements (e.g., “I would like your help doing…”) rather than “you” statements (e.g., “You’re not helping enough”) so that the other person feels less defensive. If someone is still unwilling to provide support, just keep in mind that not showing you outward support doesn’t mean that person doesn’t care. Look for the ways they do support you and focus on that.



Self-Directed Behavior: Self-Modification for Personal Adjustment (8th Edition) by Watson, D. L., & Tharp, R. G. (2002).Belmont,CA:Wadsworth.