You Don't Have to Do It Alone

By , SparkPeople Blogger
Editor's Note: Obesity expert Dr. Martin Binks contributes regular guest posts to the dailySpark.

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 playing the victim and blaming others. The fast food restaurants, your friends’ parties, the holidays or your co-workers may not always feel the same way about their "expected" role your weight loss efforts that you do. Be ready to accept that without animosity and be prepared to take personal responsibility in the face of less-than-ideal circumstances. Understand that your needs are part of a larger whole and that not everyone needs to change to help you to lose weight. However, some people are willing and some situations are changeable so focus on what you can do to both adapt to that which is unchangeable and change what you can. 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 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:
  • Eating more slowly than usual
  • Waking up to exercise
  • Supporters asking how many pounds you have lost
  • Supporters snacking habits
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 to know what you need. Also, passive communication of your discontent won’t work very well either. For example, consider the statement: "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:

  • "When I am eating more slowly than usual, it would help me if you were to try to eat at the same speed so I don't worry that I am keeping you waiting."
  • "If I don't wake up to exercise some morning, would you be able to wake me up once and ask me if I had planned to skip my workout?"
  • "Instead of asking how many pounds I've lost, I'd prefer for you to ask if I am feeling good about my health plan."
  • "If you are eating a snack, it would be very helpful to me if you would ask if I mind you eating it near me."
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. Some find support within their church or the local clubs and organizations to which they belong. Of course SparkPeople provides a wide range online support, too!

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.

Did you struggle (or do you currently struggle) to find support with your weight-loss efforts?

Dr. Martin Binks is Clinical Director and CEO of Binks Behavioral Health PLLC. He is also Assistant Consulting Professor, Division of Medical Psychology, Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences, Duke University Medical Center. His professional activities include direct patient care, research, consultation services and the development of evidence-based obesity and health promotion programs for healthcare, research and corporate wellness environments.

Dr. Binks received his Ph.D. in clinical psychology from Fairleigh Dickenson University, trained at the Bronx VA Medical Center and completed pre and postdoctoral training in behavioral medicine at the Medical University of South Carolina. He is the former Director of Behavioral Health, Research, and New Business and Strategic Alliances at the Duke Diet & Fitness Center. Dr Binks has worked extensively in the areas of obesity, health & wellness promotion, neuropsychology, substance abuse treatment, post-traumatic stress disorder and spinal cord injury.

Dr. Binks has authored and co-authored multiple research publications and the book The Duke Diet and has appeared on MSNBC Countdown with Keith Olberman, ABC news "On Call”, NPR, Lifetime Television, WGN, 700 Club and is a featured contributor on He is regularly called upon for commentary on a wide range of health and psychological topics in a variety of national publications and websites including USA Today, Washington Post, LA Times, Oprah Magazine, GX Magazine, AOL Health, Fitness, Men’s and Women’s Health Magazines Reuters and the Associated Press. Dr. Binks has been a contributor with the Army National Guard Decade of Health and Wounded Warriors Programs and is a member of several corporate advisory boards.

His research interests include technology-based healthcare delivery, obesity treatment, non alcoholic fatty liver disease, and overall health promotion. He serves as a reviewer on several scientific journals Dr. Binks contributes to healthcare provider education through his work with students and trainees and by lecturing nationally in the areas of obesity management, health promotion and behavioral medicine. Dr. Binks is currently active in several leadership positions at the national scientific organization The Obesity Society.

Dr. Binks works directly with health coaching clients from around the world through in-person, telephone and web-based technology and also offers individual psychotherapy at the Durham, N.C., location. He can be reached through