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Are You Ignoring This Critical Factor for Weight Loss?

Updated: Nov 13, 2020

There are many things that stack the deck in your favor when it comes to establishing and maintaining better eating habits. One of the biggest is social support. I’ve found that most people prefer to sweep this factor under the rug, especially if they don’t live alone. I get it, when it comes to nutrition, it’s easier to focus on proteins and fats than navigating relationships.

Research shows that habits and attitudes are contagious, even on a subconscious level.

The problem with ignoring the effect of your social connections is that it makes it harder to practice healthy eating. Research shows that habits and attitudes are contagious, even on a subconscious level. There's the obvious effects, like having friends with a craft beer habit, but there are also subtler influences, that become contagious norms – one person gains weight, and it moves the needle on what's a normal weight for that entire social circle. According to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine:

  • Among pairs of adult siblings, if one sibling became obese, the chance that the other would become obese increased by 40%.

  • If one spouse became obese, the likelihood that the other spouse would become obese increased by 37%.

  • If your friends are obese, you have a 45% higher chance of being obese ourselves; If a friend of a friend is obese, your risk of obesity is 25% higher; if your friends’ friends’ friend is obese, your risk of obesity is 10% higher.

As a nutrition coach, I've witnessed many clients struggling with momentum because they feel unsupported, and even sabotaged, by immediate family members.

Sustainable weight loss is a long game, so maintaining your momentum is key. Social support plays a big role. As a nutrition coach, I've witnessed many clients struggling with motivation because they feel unsupported, and even sabotaged, by immediate family members. Though it's often unintended, it has an impact.

Humans don’t really like change, and my own family is a prime example. I do most of the cooking at my house, so when I decided to add more dark leafy greens to dinner, it went over like a fart in an elevator. At first I was upset and offended. “They should appreciate that I care about their health, not to mention I’m the one doing the cooking!” and “Why can’t they support me and what I’m trying to do?!” But then I realized it wasn’t fair to expect them to hop aboard the greens train, when it had taken me awhile to work up to it. So I changed the question. Instead of “How do I change their minds?” I asked “How can I make this work in the simplest way possible?” The first time an answer struck me, I was making tacos. It's already a make-your-own meal, so why not offer options that make everyone happy? It felt like a big win – everyone got what they wanted, and there was no dinner drama!

What about dinners where there's not obvious solution? Talk about your healthy eating goals and why they matter to you with the ones around you. This is often a difficult conversation, because even when it's someone else's change, humans don’t like change. It brings up scary feelings of the unknown: “I like you just the way you are now; why are you trying to change?” and "You'll take these oreos away from me, over my dead body!" It may feel daunting at first, so keep it short and sweet. This process will take time, so let’s look at strategies you can use in the meantime, to keep momentum rolling.

Here are some strategies that DON'T work:

  • Nutrition righteousness. Yes, sugared cereal is not an ideal breakfast for your teen, but if you become critical and judgmental, they’ll get defensive and shut down the conversation. Yes, vegetables are good for you, but your partner has their own set of reasons for eating & drinking the way that they do.

  • Cooking 2 separate dinners. In theory, this could be a solution, but in reality, doing this regularly results in burnout and kills your motivation.

  • Going it alone with sheer will power. Willpower is only useful for brief periods of time, and you're in this for the long haul.

  • Removing all unhealthy foods from your house. This is the quickest way to household mutiny.

The good news is that you don’t have to go it alone or spend every waking moment meal prepping.

What does work:

  • Flexible dinners, like the one in my story above. Lowering the dinner tension is a huge relief! (Check out this recipe idea.)

  • Gentle persistence of offering healthy options, because it adjusts your households’ norms.

  • Choosing to be a role model for your loved ones with consistent healthy eating, because influence works in both directions.

  • Adding more healthy options and making them convenient. The easier it is to choose something healthy, the more likely you'll make a healthy choice.

  • Finding accountability partners outside your immediate family. A nutrition coach, or friend who’s starting to eat healthier, or both. The more, the better! From the statistics above, you can see that your friends have a big influence on you.

Support is a critical factor for your long term success, and you need to build it, just like you would strength train to build muscle. Keep at it, and it'll be there when you need it!

Share the knowledge! Know someone (or maybe several people) who struggles with maintaining momentum? Share this article with them on Facebook, Linked In, or just copy and send the link using one of the icons below. Thanks for spreading the health!
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