Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Are your friends making you fat? When it comes to dieting, your social support network--i.e., your pals and your family--has the power to keep you on USA, LLC

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Trying to lose weight can feel like a lonely uphill battle--especially when a (clueless!) coworker brings doughnuts to the morning meeting, or your (insensitive!) guy comes home with a pint of your favorite ice cream. But rather than feeling like it's you against the world, you can get your friends, loved ones, and even strangers involved in your cause. Both research and experience show that having a strong network of support not only helps you shed pounds but also helps you keep them off. Case in point: About 70 percent of dieters who successfully lose weight long-term rely on social support, according to findings in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. This month, learn how social support--or lack thereof--has played a role in the weight-loss efforts of Real-Life Healthy Life (RLHL) participants Crystal, Lily, and Maria. Plus, discover the type of support that will best suit your personality and put you on track for healthier living today.


"My family members tend to do it at parties of other gatherings. Someone will say, 'Oh, one cookie (or brownie or whatever) isn't going to hurt you--what's one?" It's like I'm 14 years old again and the peer pressure is coming down on me. I don't want to be the center of attention about my diet, so I eat something to shut them up, and then change the subject."

* Expert insight: "Maria has learned to prepare for her family's frequent food-heavy events by skipping extra calories for a few days beforehand," says RLHL nutrition expert Elisa Zied, R.D., author of Feed Your Family Right! "As part of this party-prepping strategy, Maria should also plan her response to the pressure to eat more. She can arm herself with a few simple replies, such as, 'You're right, one cookie won't hurt me--but it won't help me reach my goals either,' or Tm saving my calories for a second glass of wine.' With a little practice, Maria will get comfortable verbalizing her thoughts and goals without feeling scrutinized or pressured."


"My sister-in-law Heather. We're a lot alike--we both love food, and we're always talking about our weight-loss goals and eating habits. When we eat out or order in together, she's the first to suggest splitting a healthy meal such as grilled chicken (nothing breaded or fried) and a salad with dressing on the side. And if we do crave something unhealthy, we'll order it as an appetizer and split it--that way we can get a taste without going too crazy."


"Meeting up with Crystal and Lily every month for our REDBOOK photo shoots is a huge help. When I feel like I'm a big failure because I can't lose 50 pounds in a week (not healthy), I walk into the studio and I hear everyone else talking about their struggles and I realize we are all the same, even though we live such different lives. It brings me back to reality."

Maria Mills, 37
Stay-at-home mom;
married with two
children, ages 4 and 2;
Binghamton, NY

height 5'3"
weight 180.75 lbs 168 lbs
body fat 30.2% 26.2%
bust 40" 38 1/4"
waist 35 1/2" 34 1/2"
hips 45 1/2" 42 1/2"

Body fat percentages are derived from a three-point
caliper measurement, which has a margin of
error of +/- 3 percentage points.Lily


"My fiance, Eugene, always worries that I'm not eating enough--probably because he eats enough for both of us combined--so he tries to give me more food. I know he does it out of love, but it's really not helpful. For instance, one night last week I made salad for dinner, and I knew he wouldn't want that, so I told him to pick something up for himself on his way home--and he showed up with a bucket of fried chicken for us to share. Argh! I gave in and ate a drumstick (though I did take off the skin)."

* Expert insight: "Lily should express to Eugene in a loving but firm way her reasons for wanting to lose weight--that it's not just to be thinner but to feel better and healthier," says Zied. "Perhaps showing Eugene her food records and explaining which eating habits she wants to improve--such as cutting back on sweets and consuming more fruits and veggies--will help him understand and accept Lily's goals. Lily should also clearly explain what she needs in terms of support in a way that doesn't put Eugene on the defensive, such as, 'I appreciate you bringing home dinner, but I need you to respect my desire to eat healthier and not surprise me with fattening food.'"


"My biggest source of support is the women I see regularly at my gym. After a tough workout, it's fun to socialize in the locker room and talk about nutrition and eating healthy with the girls. They also take some of the same classes I do, so knowing that they'll be there helps motivate me to drag my butt to the gym in the morning."


"Discussing my daily food log with Elisa every week is really helpful. It kind of feels like going to confession, but I enjoy it because we talk through strategies for improving my eating habits, and with her help I think I'm making healthier choices each month. When I look back at how I handled social eating situations before RLHL, I see that I've made huge improvements."

Lily Chern, 29
Business analyst/
entrepreneur; engaged,
no children; New York City


height 5'1"
weight 136 lbs 130.5 lbs
body fat 24.6% 23.1%
bust 33 1/2" 32"
waist 30" 29"
hips 38 1/2" 37 1/2"Crystal


"I have some relatives who take it the wrong way if I don't try their food. I don't want to insult anyone or hurt someone's feelings--I've always been more concerned with everyone else's emotions than with making myself a priority. So even if I don't want to, I try the dish, realize that it's pretty good ... and then find myself working on my third plate of it."

* Expert insight: "In these situations, Crystal should ask herself, Would it offend me if someone didn't try my dish simply because they were watching their weight?" suggests Zied. "The answer is most likely no, because Crystal understands how hard it is to say no to all food. So she should appeal to the sensitivity of her relatives: 'I want to try it--I know you're a fabulous cook--but I'm trying to cut back on how much I eat.' They should understand--but if they don't, Crystal should remind herself that that's okay. Remember, taking care of your health is just as important as protecting others' feelings."


"My husband, Samuel, is a constant source of support. My weight has always been a touchy issue, so instead of policing me, he helps me without attacking me about it. For example, if I call Samuel at work in a moment of weakness and say, 'On your way home, pick me up a pint of chocolate chocolate-chip ice cream,' he won't say no. Instead, he'll change the subject for a few minutes, and then ask, 'Okay, what's really bothering you?' By letting a few minutes go by without passing judgment, Samuel allows me to think about what I'm truly feeling--and to realize that I'm just reaching out for the foods that used to bring me comfort."


"I have always felt alone in my weight-loss struggles, but now I realize I'm not. My sisters in the struggle--Lily and Maria--always offer sincere words of encouragement and understanding during our photo shoots, and with each kind word, I feel my self-esteem growing. I also value all of the comments on my RLHL blog: There are days when I'm feeling a little down, and reading the supportive comments from women I don't even know reminds me that none of us are alone, and that I am on the right track to becoming a better me."

Crystal Smith, 34
Owns/runs a travel agency
from borne; married with
three children, ages 5 and 3
(twins); Plainfield, NJ


height 5'5"
weight 266 lbs 250 lbs
body fat 39.2% 32.9%
bust 52 1/2" 50"
waist 50" 46"
hips 53 1/2" 51"photographed by Peter LaMastro

QUIZ: What's your best source of support?

1. You're chatting with a group of friends at a wedding when one of them asks how your diet's going. You:

a) Blush and change the subject--fast.

b) Vent about how tough it is, and direct everyone to keep you away from the wedding cake no matter what!

c) Brush her off with, "Oh, I'll just bore you with that later!" Sheesh, what a loudmouth!

2. When working out at the gym, you'd rather be:

a) Invisible. Even the thought of being seen in shorts makes you self-conscious.

b) Up front in a fitness class, right by the instructor. You can't quit if the entire class is staring at you.

c) Chatting between reps--it makes the time go by faster.

3. Who knows how much you weigh?

a) You. And sometimes your doctor--when he can convince you to get on the scale.

b) Your mother, your trainer, your diet buddies at work. At the end of the day, it's just a number.

c) Your best friend.

4. You're halfway to your goal weight! You celebrate by:

a) Treating yourself to those cute strappy sandals you've been eyeing.

b) Wearing your skinny jeans out for the next girls' night and saying (a few times) how psyched you are that they fit again.

c) Going out to dinner with your guy.

5. When shopping for a new bathing suit, you:

a) Order several styles and sizes online, try them on at home, and mail back whatever doesn't fit.

b) Can't decide without modeling each swimsuit for the store sales clerk and asking her how it looks on you.

c) Make a date with a girlfriend who hates swimsuit shopping as much as you do to shop when stores are the least crowded.

* If you picked mostly a's: You consider losing weight a private matter, but you could still benefit from a little virtual (read: anonymous) social support. Try participating in an online weight-loss chat room, or reading and commenting on other dieters' blogs (like those of RLHL participants Crystal, Lily, and Maria, at, or of Team REDBOOK, at This approach will allow you to swap advice and words of encouragement with like-minded others--without sacrificing your privacy.

* If you picked mostly b's: Telling others about your weight-loss endeavors gives you a sense of accountability and keeps you motivated, so group support is your best bet. Consider joining a health-focused group that meets regularly, such as a RLHL weight-loss group or a REDBOOK Walking Group (go to meetup .com/redbook to find groups in your area). Of, form your own weight-loss club and schedule bimonthly gatherings to discuss what's working and what isn't.

* If you picked mostly c's: You don't need a huge cheering section to help you lose weight--just one or two sympathetic, trustworthy people you can turn to when you need to talk. So join forces with a loved one who shares your get-healthy goals, and make a pact to be available to each other whenever the need arises. Some other ideas for one-on-one support: Meet with a nutritionist to discuss your dietary goals and needs, or invest in a few sessions with a personal trainer.

Source Citation
Gorrell, Carin. "Are your friends making you fat? When it comes to dieting, your social support network--i.e., your pals and your family--has the power to keep you on track or push you off the rails. Here, how to get your loved ones on your side." Redbook June 2007: 114+. InfoTrac Pop Culture eCollection. Web. 28 Oct. 2009. .

Gale Document Number:A166092297

Disclaimer:This information is not a tool for self-diagnosis or a substitute for professional care.

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