The Benefits of a Supportive Environment

Establishing a support network at the beginning of a weight-loss effort and keeping it strong to maintain lasting weight loss is important for long-term success.
The Benefits of a Supportive Environment

Weight Loss Needs Positive Reinforcement
Losing weight can be stressful, while getting support during the weight-loss process may help relieve some of the stress. This was the finding of a study in which two groups of overweight women followed a weight-loss diet. One of the groups was in a program that included support and the other was not.

The researchers found that the group that did not receive support had higher levels of cortisol, a hormone that the body makes more of during times of stress. This group also experienced a decrease in their abilities to pay attention and to perform tasks, two areas of mental functioning that tend to decrease during periods of stress.1 The group that included support did not have any of these problems.

In a study on more than 100 women, those who restricted calories had higher cortisol levels; additionally, self-monitoring increased stress levels.2

Important behaviors that are needed for weight loss, such as controlling portions, being physically active and making wise food choices, are more likely to be done if there is a supportive atmosphere. For example, in a study of women trying to lose weight, their ability to control their eating and choose lower-calorie foods was improved when they got support.3

Women also expressed interest in support for exercise, nutrition education, positive reinforcements, and avoiding criticism.4

Involve Partners
Not surprisingly, there is a connection between spouses and body weight because couples tend to eat meals together and share a common food environment.5,6,7 Working together to support weight loss makes a difference.

Encouraging Physical Activity
When it comes to physical activity, support is just as important as it is for food selection. Both family and friends can provide support that boosts trying different types of exercise, including leisure-time activity and participation in sports. Among a group of older adults, support from family members, healthcare providers, classmates, and instructors was among the success factors for continuation of exercise.8

Sustaining Weight Loss
Ongoing social support from family and friends, as well as other sources, may help to sustain weight-loss efforts. Research shows that programs that provide in-person weight-loss support, Internet motivation, or a combination of personal and technology interaction help maintain weight loss efforts.9 In creating support for weight loss and weight-loss maintenance, the bottom line is: Don't go it alone.

view footnotes

The Weight Watchers Approach:

One of the four pillars of the Weight Watchers approach is to create a supportive atmosphere, which has been shown to be critical for lasting weight loss.10


Other Science Library Topics:

The Predictors of Successful Weight Loss

Social Support and Lasting Weight Loss


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10Heshka S, Anderson JW, Atkinson RL, Greenway FL, Hill JO, Phinney SD, Kolotkin RL, Miller-Kovach K, Pi-Sunyer FX. Weight loss with self-help compared with a structured commercial program: a randomized trial. JAMA. 2003 Apr 9;289(14):1792-8.