For many women, social support and accountability are essential to successful weight loss and management, according to a new study by the University of Illinois.
For the study, 23 women participated in a weight loss program that reduced their food consumption by 500 calories per day. Eating more vegetables, planning ahead, and portion control were emphasized. About a year and a half after they’d finished, they participated in focus groups to determine which factors helped or hindered their weight loss.
“All of the women lost a significant amount of weight on the program, but many were unsuccessful at maintaining it after the program ended,” said researcher Catherine J. Metzgar, R.D., L.D.N. Those who did keep the weight off reported that a high level of social support from many sectors was critical in their success.
“Our women didn’t find that accountability to themselves was so important, but having support from others was — just having that social support from someone who was going through the same experience,” said Metzgar, a graduate research assistant in food science and human nutrition.
“What this study shows is that if you can find that one friend who has the same goals or can just hold you accountable, it is really helpful.”
Many participants reported that the program’s weekly educational group meetings had offered the accountability, support, and motivation they needed to continue their progress. But once it ended, and no one was monitoring their progress, some dieters lost their motivation and fell back into old habits.
Trying to work up self-motivation every day and remain focused on their goals without social support was a significant struggle for these women.
Furthermore, many participants received no support from family and friends. Rather than encouraging their weight loss efforts, some friends and family members responded negatively, intentionally or unintentionally sabotaging their progress by making unhelpful comments or tempting with high-calorie foods.
For many women, significant life transitions — such as graduating college and starting a sedentary job, getting married, pregnancy and childbirth — had become traps, triggering cycles of “continual bouts of weight gain, weight loss, maintenance, and prevention of weight regain,” the researchers found.
“They were very aware of life transitions having a meaningful impact on how they were able to lose weight or maintain that weight loss,” said co-author Sharon M. Nickols-Richardson, Ph.D., a professor of food science and nutrition and Metzgar’s faculty adviser.
“The women very clearly articulate their awareness of life transitions and their impact on food behaviors. Several women referred to it as a ‘weight-loss journey,’ indicating that they realized that they needed a total lifestyle change, rather than a temporary diet to achieve and maintain weight loss.”
The dieters also took on a “fresh-slate mentality,” forgiving themselves for slip-ups and bad days, and got back on track with their eating and exercise programs right away, rather than letting a mistake send them on a downward spiral, Metzgar said.
Source: University of Illinois