Weight loss is a highly individual and personal journey. However, this doesn’t mean others can’t contribute to the effort. In fact, social support can play a pivotal role in helping weight loss patients achieve their wellness goals. Read on to learn why support groups matter so much and to get tips for helping your bariatric clients find support groups that work for them.
A growing body of evidence points to the value of “strength in numbers” for weight loss. Research from Baylor College of Medicine indicates that people who participated in community-based weight loss programs were more likely to succeed than those who attempted to lose weight on their own.
Specifically, participants with support lost an average of 10.1 pounds over the course of the study compared to 1.3 pounds for those who went it alone. They were also 8.8 times more likely to shed 10 percent of their body weight.
But research also shows that not all support is the same. Consider a report published in The Journal of Behavioral Medicine, which evaluated the degree to which social support impacted weight loss management. The findings: “Maintainers” who received diet support saw improved outcomes across several measures.
There was a caveat, however: The researchers determined that “compliments and active participation” trumped “verbal instructions and encouragements” when it came to facilitating weight loss maintenance. The conclusion, in other words: “Positive, rather than instructive, support appears beneficial in weight loss maintenance.”
Think only face-to-face support qualifies? Think again. Scientists determined that people with the greatest levels of social networking had the most success with weight loss.
Lead study author Julia Poncela-Casasnovas told LiveScience: “It makes sense that social connectedness is related to any goal people try to achieve. It can be AA [Alcoholics Anonymous], or just joining a gym with friends, or quitting smoking. Any of these behavior-modifying endeavors are more likely to succeed if you have some kind of social support.”
Furthermore, online weight loss support programs may even work better than real-world alternatives when it comes to helping weight loss patients build confidence — which researchers suggest may be linked with the enhanced ability to maintain weight loss over time.
In online settings, too, the quality of the support group also matters. One factor, in particular, that makes a difference is the involvement of dietitians. According to Dr. Louis Aronne, clinical professor and director of the Comprehensive Weight Control Program at Cornell University: “When dietitians provide support in online setting, online groups have good results. They're very similar to going to a group, going to a physical meeting.”
The good news is that there are many options available when it comes to finding support groups for patients. (In fact, the real obstacle is not in finding the group, but in getting weight loss patients to attend.)
To find a support group, patients should first look into whether their surgeon's office or local hospital offers a bariatric support group. If not, plenty of other options exist. To that end, the Obesity Action Coalition’s (OAC) Find a Support Network, which includes online, local area and even telephonic support groups, is a wonderful resource for weight loss patients looking to connect with others.
We also recommend Rational Foods’ “Achievers” group on Facebook. Designated as a space for members to share their weight loss journeys, its mission is to “create an atmosphere of support, empathy, and growth, a place where [weight loss patients] are stronger together.”
While the value of formal support groups is undeniable, this doesn’t detract from the need for informal support from family and friends. Unsupportive behaviors do sometimes arise, but weight loss patients who ask for specific help from their friends and family members are more likely to get what they need.
“Finding support for your weight-loss efforts can mean the difference between success and failure,' says the Mayo Clinic. In addition to the support they provide during consultations, dietitians can facilitate even greater weight loss success among their bariatric clients by reinforcing the importance of support groups.