Start a weight-loss support group

I'm often thrilled by the clever and innovative ideas readers come up with.

Last week, one reader mentioned on the DietDoc forum that she and some of her friends had formed their own Biggest Loser Group and were now trying to figure out which member had lost the most weight and who had, therefore, won the competition.

This is such an excellent idea that I want to share it with everyone who is attempting to lose weight.

Unity is strength
Research studies conducted in the UK and elsewhere have repeatedly found that individuals who embark on regimens to lose weight by dieting and/or exercise do considerably better if they join a group of their peers who are trying to achieve the same goals. This is especially true for women who repeatedly reported improved adherence and motivation when they were part of a weight-loss group.

It is logical that anyone who has to restrict his or her food intake and do regular exercise will benefit from the moral support and even from the competition of other people attempting the same thing.

Some of the most successful weight-loss organisations such as Weigh-Less and Weight Watchers have used this principle extensively for decades.

What you can do
If you have made a resolution that 2009 is the year in which you're going to lose weight, consider the idea.

Most overweight people have friends, family members or colleagues who have the same problem. Discuss the group concept with as them. You don’t need large numbers – just having two or three other slimmers who will walk this path with you will make a great difference to your resolve and success.

If you're not going to structure your group around the concept of a competition (e.g. a type of Biggest Loser Group), then each member can probably decide on his or her own diet, pace of weight loss and type of exercise. However, you will obtain better results if you all use the same diet and do the same kind of exercise.

Selecting the slimming diet
If you and the members of your group decide to use the same diet to achieve your goals, then make sure that it's sensible and balanced.

Don’t go for fad or starvation diets. Ideally, you should ask a dietician to work out a basic slimming diet for your group that everyone can use without suffering from hunger pangs and tiredness.

The Health24 Diet Zone also features a number of slimming diets that can be used successfully by most people.

Selecting your exercise component
The type of exercise you select will depend on how fit all the members are and circumstances such as finances (everyone may not be able to afford gym fees).

Probably the least expensive forms of exercise, which everyone can do, are walking and skipping. If you go for regular (preferably daily) walks with your group, you will also be safer and members will be able to encourage each other in their efforts.

Role of health professionals
I would like to see medical doctors, dieticians and clinic sisters buying into the concept of weight-loss groups.

If you're a professional who works with overweight and obese patients, consider organising them into groups of friends and colleagues who will be able to give each other support and provide some competition. You may feel that you're too busy to get involved with this type of organisation, but at least plant the idea in your patient’s minds and then leave the organising up to them.

Benefits of weight-loss groups
There are many benefits associated with peer support. You will not feel so isolated if you share the experience; and everyone is able to give everyone else moral support and encouragement, especially when you're dying to cheat. Competition can spur you on, though it's important to take care of the lesser losers at all times. It's inexpensive, and members can club together to pay for certain services, for example your consultation with the dietician.

Remember: unity is strength. Let me know how your group is doing.

(Dr I.V. van Heerden, DietDoc, updated April 2011)

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