The research is clear on this. Group support is an excellent way to achieve your weight loss goals. This study, published in the journal Obesity, showed that people lost more weight when they attended group sessions. Consistent, frequent attendance was an important factor. What is it about groups that is so effective in the weight loss process? I have a personal bias in favor of groups. I think they are a wonderful way of accomplishing any goal, as well as building community (something we need more of in life). Here are a few benefits of attending groups.
We realize we are not alone. On a conscious level we know this, but there is so much power in hearing our own struggles reflected back at us—sometimes in astounding specificity. Something clicks. We don’t feel as ashamed or as discouraged. The problem does not seem insurmountable. And there always seems to be someone who can offer helpful advice, encouraging words, or simply empathy for our struggles. There is a tremendous relief when we understand that others have the same struggles and fears.
We benefit from the wisdom of those who have gone before us. I often speak of the Mindful Life as a “path.” We are all on our own unique paths, but we share so many similarities. With weight loss, there are hundreds of stumbling blocks that appear in front of us: holidays, work stress, trigger foods, night time eating, restaurants, and so on. Each week we may be dealing with a different struggle, but it seems to be law of group counseling that someone in the group has been at the same point before and can help. There is nothing like the wisdom of our peers. I am always amazed by the creative brainstorming and strategizing that comes out of groups.
We can help others. There are few greater feelings than being able to use our earned wisdom in the service of helping another person. Somehow it makes it seem worthwhile to be able to draw from our victories to help group members who are struggling. This is one reason why it is helpful to stay in groups even after your goals have been met. Helping others allows for us to experience positive mental states, such as compassion, empathy, generosity, and service.
We remain accountable. The group becomes our community, our peers, and in some cases, our friends. We know that each week we will talk about our weight loss (although we don’t weigh people), and it is a natural human tendency to want to make progress and have that progress witnessed by others. The thought of coming to group might be what it takes to resist overeating, or to motivate us to go to the gym, or to choose the apple over the candy bar. Whatever it takes! Groups do engender a sense of responsibility and accountability among members, and that is a good thing when it comes to weight loss.
Groups also prevent cognitive distortions that can sabotage our progress (all or nothing thinking, catastrophizing, black and white thinking, negative filtering). Group members will often point out these cognitive fallacies and bring people back to a more realistic and workable viewpoint.
We share in our victories and find encouragement in our setbacks. Losing weight is not easy. There are ups and downs. It is important to have both witnessed by others. This reinforces and perpetuates the positives, and helps us to avoid getting discouraged by the setbacks. What may seem like a catastrophe one week, will be put in perspective when discussed in the group.
Having a good group leader is also very important. A good leader helps to keep things moving, makes sure the overall tone remains supportive, and is able to offer his/her own unique expertise. The leader is especially important regarding plateaus. Plateaus can be tricky, and a good leader will be able to see when someone can “up their game” to move to the next level.