EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

April 29, 2008

Winning at weight loss takes team effort


Many overweight individuals try to lose those extra pounds on their own, instead of finding help that can teach them how to get and stay healthy. Interestingly, recent studies show that not only does the likelihood of being overweight increase among friends and family members, but also the opposite holds true.

When people joined a group based weight-loss program with friends and family, they lost more weight and kept it off better than those who joined the same program alone, according to research published in the Journal of Consulting Clinical Psychology.

"Obesity isn't a problem that occurs in a vacuum," says Karen Miller-Kovach, chief scientific officer of Weight Watchers International. "It should be no surprise, then, that the solution also doesn't occur in one either."

Whether simply working to lose weight and exercising with a friend, or attending group meetings through an organized weight loss program, people find better success with support, studies show. Witness the Weight Watchers phenomenon: those who attend meetings lose, on average, three times more weight than those who try to lose weight on their own, according to research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Still not convinced that group support will work for you? Consider these tips when evaluating a weight loss support group.

Look for a group that offers nonjudgmental support. "Few of us respond well to pressure and embarrassment," says Liz Josefsberg, Weight Watchers Leader. Find a group, like Weight Watchers, where your progress is praised but not necessarily shared - unless you want it to be. "No one shouts out your weight or shares it with anyone but you," Josefsberg says. "And if you don't want to know it, we won't tell you either. We'll note it in the computer for later so you can track your progress."

Seek a setting where the emphasis is on total health and how your progress makes you feel, rather than on the numbers. Most of us have enough stressful goals to achieve at work and home; a weight loss goal should be something that makes you feel positive, not stressed. A gathering where you are able - but not required - to speak up and share will create a supportive, positive and stress-free experience.

Both sexes need - and succeed with - support. Weight isn't just a woman's issue; both sexes struggle with obesity and the health ramifications of excess weight. Cardiovascular disease, which includes weight-related problems like heart disease, hypertension and stroke, is the number one killer of women, according to the American Heart Association. Losing 10 percent of your body weight is not only the first big step toward your ultimate goal weight, but it can also reduce your risk for many diseases and increase your self-esteem.

Programs that advocate a specific quick-fix diet may be successful for some people for a period of time, but are difficult to sustain in the long run. Seek a weight loss program that emphasizes healthful variety and portion control, rather than a restrictive diet that may make you feel deprived. This allows you to fit your weight loss program into real life, including special occasions like birthdays, weddings and get-togethers.

Meetings should be dynamic, diverse and fun. For example, Weight Watchers meetings not only include weigh-ins, but information on a weekly weight-loss topic, as well as support, tips, strategies from others sharing your weight loss journey.

It is helpful if group leaders have gone through the program themselves and successfully lost weight as a result. "You wouldn't take your car to a mechanic who'd never driven one," says Josefsberg. "You'll benefit more practically and emotionally from guidance delivered by someone who's successfully lost weight following the same program you're following."

Look for a weight loss program incorporating support that fits conveniently into your life. Most of us find weight loss challenging enough without compounding the difficulty. Programs like Weight Watchers now offer many meeting sites and online tools to help you stay on track between meetings.

You can find a Weight Watchers meeting by logging on to www.weightwatchers.com, or by calling (800) 651-6000.

— Courtesy of ARAcontent