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Dr. Binks Blog

Rallying Your Support System: It takes a community to be healthy

Posted on September 16, 2012 by admin

Long-term change in how one cares for oneself can seem like a long and lonely road.  It doesn’t have to be! Having the support of people who care about you can make it much easier. Support comes in many forms and is unique to each person. What you may find supportive could be seen as intrusive by another person. For example, a patient of mine recently expressed annoyance at a friend walking up to her while she was exercising and offering unsolicited motivational comments, yet for another person this might have been seen as helpful.  It is essential that you become the CEO of your support team to ensure you get what you need from them. It is equally important that you recognize this when supporting your friends.

Follow the steps below to get the help you need from your support network and to help you to understand what might go into your providing good support to others.

Step 1: Own it! You must take the lead in creating your weight friendly environment. Guard against resenting those who appear less than ideally helpful. Your friends, your family, or your co-workers may not always feel the same way you do about their role your weight loss efforts – so if you find a particular situation unhelpful in terms of your health plan; then figure out how to minimize that influence even if they don’t change. Also understand that some people may want to accommodate your needs but don’t know how. Family, friends, and coworkers may not automatically know the best way to help you if you don’t explain your needs. Take some time to think about what support means to you and how you would like others to assist, comfort, and encourage you.

Step 2: Be clear, be realistic and be specific in your requests to others If you want to communicate your needs to others, take a moment to develop a clear understanding of exactly what you need so that you can explain it in very specific terms. Create a list of clear-cut requests for your prospective supporters. Here are just a few examples of areas in which communication with supporters might need to be clarified:

Think of your own list and think about what you need to get across to the person you are asking to help you.

Step 3: Identify and Request Support Next identify who is likely to be supportive and who is not, develop a clear communication plan, and set aside some time to talk privately with each prospective supporter. Be as specific as possible. Requests such as “Ask me if you can do anything to help as opposed to how many pounds I’ve lost” and “Would you be willing to put all your junk food in one cupboard to keep it out of my sight in the kitchen?” will be very effective. Vague requests like “I wish you’d be more supportive” don’t provide them with enough information know what you need. Also, passive communication of your discontent won’t work very well either “Jane is lucky that her husband helps her to lose weight and just knows what she needs without asking” This really just makes the person feel ‘less than’ but gives them no real information about what you need (other than your expectation that they are skilled at using a crystal ball). Use the requests you completed in step 2 to help structure your conversations.

Here are some suggestions based on our examples in step 2:

Step 4: Look beyond your existing supporters If you are having trouble identifying good sources of support in your family or current circle of friends, there are a variety of other places you might look. Investigate new social activities or keep an eye out for people who might share your health goals. Also you might find it helpful to join an established support group, such as Overeaters Anonymous, Weight Watchers, or a locally sponsored women’s or men’s group. Some find support within their church or the local clubs and organizations to which they belong and others use online support communities. Finally, please remember the value of professional assistance. Finding a skilled and qualified health coach, therapist, dietitian, or personal trainer can be very helpful. Professionals who are knowledgeable about and sensitive to weight-related issues can add the support and guidance you need to achieve long-term success.

Step 5: Coach Your Supporters Your supporters may have preconceived notions about what kind of support is helpful, and they may not realize that the support they’re offering is not so useful to you. In step 2, you created clear-cut requests to communicate what kind of support you need and asked some folks to help. If they don’t do it perfectly at first that’s ok, assume they are doing their best and give them constructive feedback. If, however, your supporters continue to treat you in a way that does not feel helpful you may want to quietly move on to other sources and accept that they cannot meet your needs. It’s up to you to decide what is and is not helpful for you and adjust yourself accordingly.

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