When I was a much younger man I used to smoke, until one day, at the age of 22, I decided it was time to stop. I didn’t feel the need to announce this to anyone or make a fuss, I just did it. However, one of my, then, friends found out and decided that they would stop too. I figured that both of us stopping at the same time would be a good thing as we’d both be able to support each other. I was wrong. Instead of helping, it only made things worse. Much worse.
It started in the pub when they asked me if we should go outside for a fag. I’d soon learned that it was important to identify as a non-smoker, rather than an ex-smoker, so my answer was “I don’t smoke.” This didn’t cut it. One simple question turned into various justifications of why just one wouldn’t hurt and why we could get back on the quitting train tomorrow. What was clear was that while I refused to smoke, they wouldn’t do it either, and the more desperate they got for a cigarette, the more the night turned into guilt tripping and judgment. They weren’t going to just have one themselves, they were going to try to take me down with them.
This kind of thing isn’t only common to quitting smoking, it happens with any behaviour change. From saying that you look better as you are now, to forcing junk food on you the second you tell them you want to get leaner, weight loss sabotage from a friend or significant other is real. Despite this, support and accountability for your weight loss goals are essential, and looking outside of your regular support network can be the difference between success and failure.
I’m not going to discuss why people, consciously or subconsciously, sabotage your weight loss efforts. I don’t think the underlying psychology is particularly important. What is important is recognising that it does happen and that you can rely on other support networks if it’s the case.
Even though we rely on our support networks for help in numerous different scenarios, studies have shown that 75% of us rarely, if ever received support from friends and family during weight loss. What’s worse than that is that the same friends and family, not only don’t help but can end up making things harder.
- In a study by Benson-Davies, a woman who’d had bariatric surgery spoke about her mother’s attempts to sabotage her weight maintenance post op. “My mom is self-destructive and disapproving. She’s a saboteur. She says that she wants to help me, but then she makes me brownies. It’s frustrating.”
- A review looking at the experiences of people who had lost, and maintained, their weight found that most people had saboteurs within their family and friends. Instead of offering encouragement, they made comments like “you looked ill when you lost too much weight”, and made fun of food choices when they were eating out together.
While this might seem like family might not be the best source for support, not everyone sets out to sabotage our efforts to lose weight. If you can get your closest friends and family onboard, then they are still the best bet to help you reach your goals. However, as much as relying on your nearest and dearest is a good call when they’ve got your back when they don’t quite get where you’re coming from, you still have options. Both online and in person, a whole new network of like-minded people are there to help as long as you take the time to seek them out.
I’m lucky enough to train in Physical Culture in Putney, south west London.
At first, when you join a gym like this it might seem like you’re only there for the huge number of Eleiko barbells or the vast array of squat racks, dumbbells, and any other equipment designed to get you jacked. After a while, though, you realise that it’s the people that keep you coming back.
Instead of struggling to gain muscle or getting leaner alone, I know that I can walk through PC’s doors at any time of the day to find people just like me, waiting with a word of encouragement or advice. You might not be lucky enough to have a gym like this near you, but you can make real connections anywhere where people lift weights or sweat over cardio if you are brave enough to say hi and strike up a conversation.
The days of forums are long gone, but the internet is still a great place to make contact with people sharing the same goals and struggles as you. Whether it be in Facebook groups, in one of the zillion subreddits, or even in the comments section of your favourite fitness YouTube channel, there are people out there that get it and will offer support.
My biggest wins as a coach don’t come from any fancy nutritional trickery, they come from solving problems. Whether that’s helping someone plan their week to make sure they’re still in a calorie deficit if they have to eat out every day, or letting them know that everything is still working fine when the scales haven’t budged for four weeks; it’s the daily contact with my clients where I make the most difference.
An online, or in-person, coach is there to celebrate your wins with you, pick you up when you’re feeling down about your progress, and keep you on track when your brain tells you that eating KFC is a better idea than another calorie controlled meal. Coaches don’t come for free, but they’re worth it if you know you struggle with your current support network, or the other options above aren’t working out.
Your friends and family have your back in a million different ways, but they might not always get it when you want to lose weight. Finding the human support you need in the gym, online, or through a dedicated coach is a good way to nail your goals without going it alone.
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