Although healthy eating and exercise are a big part of any weight-loss plan, there's a third (pretty important) factor you may be missing: social support.
They're an underrated weight-loss tool, but social support systems or programs may have a bigger effect on your weight-loss success than you think.
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Learn how, exactly, social support can help you reach your goals and where you can find it.
1. It Keeps You Motivated
One of the biggest benefits of having a social support system is motivation. Weight-loss progress isn't always linear (one week you may lose a pound, only to gain it back two weeks later).
Especially when you feel discouraged, knowing you have friends or a community in your corner can help you keep progressing toward your goal, Fatima Cody Stanford, MD, MPH, an obesity medicine physician-scientist, tells LIVESTRONG.com.
"Social support tells the individual that they are not alone," she says. "Many of my patients with obesity often feel alone even though obesity is the most prevalent chronic disease of our time. No one should feel alone."
The people around you may have a bigger effect on your progress than you expect. Generally, people who start a weight-loss program with friends have better success meeting their goals and maintaining their progress, according to an older but still-cited February 1999 study in the [Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology](https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/10028217/).
A February 2016 study in Childhood Obesity had similar findings. Adolescent women who relied on encouragement from family and friends were more successful in meeting their weight-loss goals.
2. It Encourages Accountability
Social support systems can come in many different forms (more on that below), including friends and family, apps or community-based programs. Different systems work for different people, but all of these provide a source of accountability, which can be a big encouraging factor.
People who have accountability partners or programs are usually better able to reach their goals, Dr. Stanford says. Whether it's reporting to a friend each week or checking off goals on an app, having a system that keeps you accountable can encourage you to keep progressing toward your goals.
3. You Can Learn New Tools
Outside resources can also teach you how to better handle and navigate any of the bumps you may encounter on the road, Dr. Stanford says. As mentioned earlier, progress isn't always linear, and in some cases, you may not know the solution when setbacks come along.
But having a community means you get to problem-solve together. Chances are, others have encountered the same issues and may be able to suggest solutions that worked for them.
Similarly, most apps or digital programs have pages and pages of information and tips or tricks to help make your weight-loss journey a little easier.
Before you start testing different systems, Dr. Stanford recommends you think about whether outside support is best for you. Although social support can help you meet your goals, it's not for everyone and isn't the only successful strategy. Some people prefer to achieve their goals solo, and that's totally OK. Or, you may prefer to start alone and reach out for support several months down the line. Bottom line: It's a totally personal decision.
But if you're set on trying a social support program or system, there are a few avenues to try:
1. Friends and Family
Your personal relationships play a big part in your overall wellbeing, and that includes navigating weight loss, Dr. Stanford says. More specifically, long-term support is often necessary in reaching milestones.
In many cases, friends and family may be able to provide all the support you need in your journey. But that doesn't mean that every relationship is ideal in this context. After all, you want support from someone you trust and can rely on when things get challenging — and who will encourage you to keep up your progress.
Think of friends or family members who are comfortable having open conversations about your weight-loss goals. Work together to set up expectations, whether that's meeting once a week to discuss your progress or sending daily text messages. This is personal preference, but the key is to find a mutual, positive understanding.
2. Weight-Loss Programs
There are plenty of weight-loss programs out there, but that doesn't mean they're all positive or provide the social support you're looking for. These are a few options you can consider:
A digital program you can purchase online and use on your phone or computer, WW (formerly known as Weight Watchers) is a personalized weight-loss plan that helps you change your lifestyle rather than simply meet a target number on the scale.
When it comes to social support, WW has a big online community through social platforms like Facebook and Instagram where you can connect with other users or explore the company's informational posts.
Try it: WeightWatchers.com
Although Noom started as a weight-loss program, it has grown into a larger wellness system and community. Noom connects you with real human coaches that are best suited to your health goals. Based on your target and availability, you and your coach set up a program that works best for you, including regular check-ins.
Noom also has group coaches and peer groups for those who want a more community-style support system.
Try it: Noom.com
Obesity Action Coalition
The Obesity Action Coalition (OAC) is an online program that's devoted to teaching users more about the science of weight and obesity. But this platform isn't only educational. The OAC also has a whole community of people looking to connect with and support others on their way to better health.
The OAC has community blogs and forums you can use to discuss your struggles or progress with others along a similar journey.
Try it: CommunityAction.org
For those who don't need a pre-established weight-loss program, apps are a great way to track your progress and connect with other users.
The MyPlate app allows you to track your food and calories, log your workouts and get inspired by a community full of dedicated users who support one another. Members share their success stories, swap tricks and tips, upload progress pictures and much more in this easy-to-use app.
Lose It! is an app that allows you to set your weight-loss and nutrition goals, track your food and monitor your progress. It also has an entire digital community you can turn to for support, join for different health and fitness challenges and ask questions.
Try it: iOs, Google Play
This calorie-tracking app allows you to set nutrition goals and track your daily calories, macronutrients and micronutrients. And there's even a message board in the app where you can post pictures of your meals, ask questions and swap advice with other users.
Fitbit is best known for its step-tracking abilities — and yes, you can use it without an actual Fitbit wearable, too. You can use this app to track your exercise progress and body statistics (like your weight), but it also has some great community features.
On the app, you can connect with your friends and family to send each other motivational messages or participate in group challenges.
Social Support Systems and Programs to Try