Social support is an under-appreciated key to successfully losing weight or adopting an exercise program.
Having supportive family, friends, and co-workers is a sort of "secret weapon."
All too often, however, people trying to adopt a healthier lifestyle encounter a lack of support that ranges from others simply not being helpful to individuals interfering, consciously or unconsciously, with the behavior change.
In some cases, it can feel like sabotage. Remarkably, this can come from the people you would least expect: family members and friends.
Learning to deal with these "frenemies" is essential to success.
Listen in as Brian Parr, PhD, shares why social support is crucial for losing weight, as well as specific ideas for developing supportive relationships.
RadioMD Presents: Train Your Body | Original Air Date: June 2, 2015
Host: Melanie Cole, MS
Guest: Brian Parr, PhD
Train your body with the American College of Sports Medicine on RadioMD. Here's Melanie Cole.
MELANIE: You try to lose weight, and some of the people that you tell--if you tell people that you're trying to lose weight--some people will look at you in the restaurant and say, “Should you be eating that?” Or other people will come to your house for a party or something and bring something really really fattening and now those people contributing are trying to sabotage your weight loss. This is a really common problem and my guest is Dr. Brian Parr. He's Associate Professor of Exercise and Sports Science at the University of South Carolina - Aiken.
Welcome to the show, Dr. Parr.
What a great topic because I have had some weight loss frenemies myself when I was in Weight Watchers like 25 years ago before I had kids. What are weight loss frenemies and what do you do to avoid that? Do you just not tell anybody you're trying to lose weight?
DR. PARR: I don't know that that’s the right answer. I think that telling people that you're trying to lose weight and getting the support of people around you is really important. I think there's lots of research and practical experience that supports that idea. The problem comes in when the people that are around you that you expect support from don't provide that level of support and, in some cases, there are some people that actually interfere or maybe even seem to be sabotaging your weight loss plan. So, obviously, this is a really difficult situation to be in but there are some things people can do to help minimize that affect and make sure that they get the people around them on board with their plan, too.
MELANIE: So, tell us what to do. How do you do that? And, how do you recognize the saboteur when they show up around you?
DR. PARR: I think I’ll start with second part there. I think this comes in two different categories. I think there are people who are too peripherally connected to us--coworkers, colleagues, acquaintances – who maybe we don't need to rely on them for lots of support, logistic support and emotional support--when trying to lose weight but we do rely on them not to get in the way. So, a simple example of this is, would be a coworker who insists on bringing food into the office, knowing that you're trying to lose weight. Once you start to see success, they seem to do this more often, right? Now, this person might not be intentionally trying to sabotage your weight loss but they certainly don't seem to be helping very much. So, I think there is this sort of the unintentional interfering that goes on. Then, there are some people that just absolutely seem to be trying to get in the way of that process and I’ve heard people talk about that, especially women. Men don't seem to do this as much but especially in women making some catty remarks to you making choices and decisions. That makes things difficult for the person trying to lose weight.
MELANIE: Well, let me just stop you a second, Dr. Parr, because I’ll tell you what. Women do tend to do it more and the catty things that happen--I think personally happen because of jealousy. "This person is really dedicating themselves to weight loss or diet," and the other girl or women friend is either jealous or says, "Well, I’m going to sabotage this deliberately because then I can...” You know, “Then, she's no better than me; then she's got no more will power than I do." It's a mean sort of cycle but I do think that it exists. I think it's almost deliberate, maybe a little but unconscious, but not really. And that women do this to other women so that they can feel better about themselves because women are typically insecure, especially when it comes to our weight.
DR. PARR: So, I think you're right about that. I see this in people that I work with in programs and I see this with friends of mine where this happens and I think you're right. I think some of this is pettiness, this intentional, you know, "I’m going to interfere with this so that you are not doing something that I’m struggling with," but we can take that a step further and look at people who are even closer to the person who's losing weight--friends, close friends and family--and there are times where those people, the ones who you would think would be universally supportive, can get in the way. I’ll give an example. A woman who was in a program of mine years ago, she was trying to lose weight. She was the person who did all of the grocery shopping and cooking for her family. She started off cooking healthier meals for everybody because she was trying to lose weight and thought this would be a good time to get her family to eat healthier. Over time, they actively resisted and complained about the healthier food she was cooking. She ended up progressing to making two dinners every night--one for her and one for her family. That didn't last long and so that was an example of people you would expect to be providing support just really not even wanting to play along.
MELANIE: So, give us some workable things that people can take right now, sort of an action plan if you run across those people--resistant family, kids, spouse, girlfriends, partners, in any way--that are stopping you in your tracks in your goal to weight loss. Give us something we can do. What do you say to those people?
DR. PARR: Well, I think the first step is making sure…
MELANIE: You know, what I’d say to those people.
DR. PARR: Yeah, right. And probably not the best place to start. I think the first thing to do is to make sure that the people around you--the people who are important in your life--know what you're trying to do and understand why. I think if you make it clear that you're not doing something to make their life more difficult and you're not doing something to make them feel bad, the people close to you, I would think, would get on board with that. They may not like it but they would get on board with it. I think when you encounter resistance, I think it’s important to you say to the person, "Look, I am really trying to do something here to help myself and I would appreciate your support in doing it. And if you can't give that support please get the heck out of my way,” in some way.
MELANIE: That's a nice way of putting it. Very nice way of putting it. I would appreciate the support but if you can't give it to me, back off.
DR. PARR: Yes and I think another way to do it too is to get the people on board with doing the things you're doing. There’s a good chance that if you're trying to lose weight, your friends or family members may need to as well, and that’s a great time to say, "Hey, why don't you join in with me? Why don't we go for a walk together?" and what you can do is to get them on your team by literally bringing them onto your team.
MELANIE: That’s a great bit of advice because, really, who couldn't use that and, as you say, you're trying to lose weight. Maybe your whole family's got to a few pounds they could lose. So, getting everybody involved. Now what about those girlfriends? Because, you know, they're not going to--they may want to get involved with you and you can say, "Hey, you want to start walking with me?" "Hey, you want to…" but, then, there's that resistance, still, so what do you say to those people that you feel are really sabotaging it? Is there some confrontation? "Hey, what is your problem?" or "I’m doing this for me, it’s nothing about you." What do you recommend to kind of get out of that rut?
DR. PARR: I think it depends on who the person is and how close they are to you. If it's someone who's an acquaintance or maybe a co-worker you might just have to ignore a lot of that. If it's someone who’s closer to you--a friend or someone you've been close to for a while--it definitely is worth having a conversation about why are you doing this and why is this the approach that you're taking? And, again, there are some cases where I think that people might not realize that they are doing it. There are a lot of really simple things. You're going to meet someone for lunch and you're thinking of, “Where can I go and get a healthy lunch?” and they're picking a place that is their favorite restaurant that doesn’t have a lot of healthy options for you. You know, that’s kind of getting in your way a little bit but they might not be thinking of it in terms of "I’m going to pick a restaurant that’s going to make Melanie have a tough time eating healthy." It might just be…
MELANIE: Yes. They are probably not. Now, in my opinion, and we only have less than a minute left, but you can always find something healthy at a restaurant or you choose not to go to that restaurant with them and you say, “I'm sorry. I'm busy.” Best advice--30 seconds--and those weight loss frenemies.
DR. PARR: Yes. I think you need to get them on board from the beginning, letting them know what you need for support and what they can do to help you and if they are not, I think it’s worth a conversation saying, "Look, I’m trying to do something really healthy for myself. I’d love to have you do this with me but at the very least, please don't get in my way."
MELANIE: That’s a great way to put it, Dr. Parr, and we all will run into those people. “Should you be eating that?” or picking those restaurants without a lot of healthy choices. You have two choices. You can either let them affect you or you can be strong and fulfill your dream of weight loss. Really, that’s what it's about.
You're listening to Train Your Body right here on RadioMD with our good friends from the American College of Sports Medicine. Thanks for listening and stay well.