Losing weight can be hard, but sometimes talking about it is even harder. If your friend, family member or partner is trying to shed some pounds and adopt a healthier lifestyle, you want to be as supportive as possible. If you’re on your own journey, you know the right kind of help can make all the difference.
“A support network is essential for any behavior change. Having the added accountability, an open ear and open arms when things get tough makes the weight-loss process seem more doable,” says Tiffany Breeding, PhD, certified strength and conditioning specialist and author of “The Metabolic Makeover.”
But research shows there’s a difference between boosting your friend’s motivation with positive feedback and shared healthy habits versus weighing them down by telling them what you think they should do. In fact, a study published in the Journal of Behavioral Medicine found people who received unsolicited advice were more likely to regain weight than keep it off, possibly due to the added pressure and frustration.
The good news is you can absolutely show up for your friend without derailing their efforts. Here, experts share four ways to do that:
LET THEM LEAD THE WAY
Step one: Know what type of support (if any) your friend wants, so you’re helping, not interfering, says Sari Chait, a psychologist at the Behavioral Health and Wellness Center in Newton, Massachusetts. If your friend wants support, start by asking why they want to lose weight. When you know what’s truly motivating them, you can do a better job of cheering them on. “For someone who wants a partner in crime, you could try going to the gym together or learning to meal prep together.” Conversely, for someone who values privacy, you can offer to be there if they need something and then not bring it up again unless they do,” adds Chait.
FOCUS ON THE PROCESS, NOT THE OUTCOME
Compliments are tricky. You might want to say, “You look great!” or “Wow, I can tell you’ve lost weight!” However, comments like these can come with the implication your friend didn’t look good before they slimmed down, while ignoring progress that’s not so visible. This perpetuates the belief we’re only attractive at a certain weight, explains Chait. Instead, applaud what your friend is doing. “Try complimenting your friend on her dedication, how she’s dealing with stress or how she’s focusing on self-care,” says Samantha Cassetty, RD.
CELEBRATE WINS AS THEY HAPPEN, HEALTHFULLY
When your friend reaches one of their weight-loss goals — saying ‘way to go!’ but then taking them out for loaded nachos and bottomless margaritas isn’t so helpful, says Cassetty. Rather, taking time to acknowledge wins along the way can help by giving your friend extra motivation and showing them their efforts are worth rewarding, adds Breeding. Suggest something that will bolster their success. Try out a new restaurant you know has more nutritious fare or even take a walking tour of a new city together.
DON’T PLAY THE DIET POLICE
As a well-meaning friend, your role shouldn’t be to say, “I don’t think you should order that” at a restaurant or side-eye them over some potato chips at a party. “Remember this is a highly personal process and losing weight in a healthful way doesn’t mean eating perfectly 100% of the time,” explains Cassetty. While your intention might be to help your friend stay on track, as a consequence, they could feel judged or worry you think they’ve failed somehow, notes Chait.