Why do people gravitate towards diet clubs like Weight Watchers and Slimming World? And why CrossFit and other group training programmes are so popular? It all boils down to us human beings wanting to be part of something. Naturally wanting to belong to a community. Needing to connect with others, whether we realise it or not. In this article, I’ll explain why we prefer not to ‘go it alone’ and give you some ideas to gain some much needed support.
For over three decades, research has identified links between overall health and the social relationships people maintain. In fact, people who are isolated socially and have fewer connections to others have a higher chance of suffering from reduced mental and physical health plus reduced life expectancy. I’m sure we can all remember our first day at a new school and being told to ‘go and make new friends’. Now I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t come naturally to many of us when we’re young. And worse, after years of becoming stuck in our ways, it can be even harder as an adult.
We hear nowadays that you are the average of the 5 people you spend most time with and there’s some truth to that. Your outlook and approach to life could be very different if you spent most of your time with an Olympic athlete, doctor, charity worker, musician and airline pilot, compared to 5 people from the same industry you already work in or who live in the same street as you. By naturally wanting to share experiences and have things in common with others, we shape and bend our behaviours accordingly to fit in.
So how can we use this desire to belong and connect to be healthier and get in to better shape? Ultimately this is about surrounding yourself with people who have either been there and done it, have the knowledge and experience to help you achieve or want to go on a journey with you side by side. Here are my 5 tips for social support success: -
1. Tell family/friends why you want to get in shape and ask for their support – how else will they know what you want to achieve? They may even have some ideas to help you out as well, although be aware that what works for one person, may not work for another. We are all different and you are unique (don’t let anyone tell you otherwise).
2. Schedule time where you can be around likeminded people – a training partner, a walking buddy, someone to go weekly food shopping with. Find people who can push you beyond your comfort zone (in a positive way). If you can find someone who has lost weight before and kept it off, even better.
3. Work with a coach – If you can’t find healthy, fit and happy people to hang out with in your community, it may be time to consider having a coach. Learning from someone who has the knowledge, qualifications and experience to help you can be a powerful thing. And if you already have a close network of support, it can be difficult to get honest independent opinions on where you are right now and how you can improve what you’re doing. A coach can do that for you. See it as an investment in yourself for the long-term.
4. Hold a dinner with family/friends – If you want to slim down, this should ideally be with people who generally eat healthily and have a grasp of portion control. You can all share ideas on food, experiences and recipes.
5. Create a challenge – This could be with workmates or a group of friends to get in shape with you. Find regular times and places where you can eat more healthily together, train together, just spend time with each other. The power of people coming together can be pretty awesome. You are not an island and all that!
Whether you’ve already started a new health kick or you’re considering one, have a think about the state of your support network. If you have people who are close to you, aware of what you’re wanting to achieve and can support you every step of the way, great. If there’s some room for improvement or you feel like you’re fighting a one person battle, then try and create some support through one or more of these tips. Best case, you’ll get what you need to help reach your goals, feel great and look awesome. Worst case, you’ll have someone to moan to about how hard it is to get in shape! The choice is yours.
Written by Ben Lawrence, Precision Nutrition Certified Coach
1. Shields, M. Community belonging and self-perceived health. Health Rep. 2008 Jun;19(2):51-60.
2. Christakis, NA and Fowler JH. The spread of obesity in a large social network over 32 years. New England Journal of Medicine. 2007. Vol 357:370-379.