Having the support of family and friends can be just as important to a weight loss plan as exercise or calorie restriction. People who go on a weight loss plan with friends or family lose more weight than people who go on a weight loss plan by themselves, according to researchers at the University of Pittsburg. Of the 166 people in the study, 66 percent of those who were recruited to participate in the study along with their friends completed the study successfully and maintained their weight loss, compared to only 24 percent of those who participated in the program alone.

Friends can offer other kinds of support. Dieting and exercising together can create a common bond, strengthening a friendship. Dr. Madelyn Fernstrom from the American College of Nutrition suggests that finding someone who can help you stay motivated is essential when you get discouraged. "Support from a diet buddy is key to long-term success," she says.

Social support benefits the dieter on several levels. John Sheridan, a professor of oral biology and molecular virology/immunology at Ohio State University, says that socially isolated people are hit harder by illness than people with an active social life, and that those who are alone more get sick more often and have more trouble recovering. In an article in the July 31, 1998, issue of Ohio State University's Research News, Sheridan points out that emotional support can actually affect us on a cellular level, increasing our body's ability to withstand stress.

People with more social support also experience less cancer pain, take less pain medication, are less likely to suffer from chest pain after coronary artery bypass surgery. They report fewer labor pains and are less likely to use epidural anesthesia during childbirth, according to researchers at the University of California.

Where to Find Support

Start with your family, or the people you live or work with. Get their support in helping you live a healthier life. An interesting side note comes from Dr. Robert Kushner, a professor at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine, who found that people who dieted with their dog lost more weight than people who didn't have a canine friend. The dogs lost weight too. Great news for man's best friend.

Joining an online weight loss program or community support group can be very effective. In a 2-year clinical trial conducted at the New York Medical Center, researchers randomly assigned participants to either weight loss support meetings or the self-help method. Those who were assigned to support meetings lost and kept off significantly more weight. There was a direct connection between the attendance at the meetings and weight loss results. This finding was cited in a systematic review of commercial weight-loss programs in the United States as an example of how important it is to cooperate in achieving lasting weight loss. And evidence suggests that the more social support a person receives, the better the results.

What to Watch Out For

Beware of friends who offer support, but are actually envious of your results. Look out for the friend who complains about their own weight loss failure when you mention your success. These friends can bring you down. Another red flag is a "friend" who suggests you celebrate by breaking your diet, or who uses shame to try to motivate you. Feeling ashamed of slow progress is the surest way back to the cycle of overeating.

Finally, you can now see that successful weight loss and good health are linked to social support. Dieting or joining a weight loss program with friends or family, and joining a weight loss community online or offline, can bolster your weight loss efforts significantly. Social support may be just what you need to lose those few extra pounds and live a long, healthy life. Good luck, and stay positive.

Author's Bio: 

Michael Locklear is a researcher and consultant with 30 years experience, studying health, nutrition, and human behavior. He has been president of the Global Peace Project since 1986, and he administrates the website www.Natural-Remedies-for-Total-Health.com as part of the Global Peace Project Educational Outreach Program. You can also find him on The Total Health Blog.