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It’s not news to anyone who has ever tried to make a major change in their behavior, whether it’s quitting smoking, alcohol, beginning an exercise program, or trying to lose or maintain weight, having a support system increases the chances of reaching one’s goals.

Not too long ago, there was a journal article published in the Journal of American Medicine that described the outcome of a study conducted at Brown University on the effects of support on weight loss through Internet programs. Sixty-five people were studied over a six-month period. Participants were asked to find nutritional information on the Internet, after an introductory one-hour group diet class. Weekly e-mail counseling was encouraged, as well as using e-mail bulletin boards as sources of support. This study found that those who used support systems lost more weight (by three times the amount) as those who only looked for information did. It may be that people who sought out support systems may have been more motivated to follow though on their goals in the first place, but it is good evidence that support does add something to a person’s efforts.

Types of support
Having a membership plan with your diet can supply the support needed to be successful. Having access to friendly, peer support via e-mail can lift your spirits and provide motivations when you need it. Other types of online support are informational newsletters and professional contact with people who can help answer your nutrition and diet questions, and online access to food facts, recipes, and nutrition information..

Beyond your plan
Social support for those who are trying to make behavior changes is very important. This can come from a family member, a friend, or a co-worker who is empathetic to your situation. Finding someone who can support your efforts is the first step. Next, share your goals and your plan with that person so that they understand what you’re trying to achieve. Although life partners, spouses, boyfriends and girlfriends can be helpful; your efforts to make positive changes can be seen as a threat to the relationship. Are they supportive or are they saboteurs? You can tell by their behavior, the things they say and do when it comes to you making good changes. If you have someone close to you who does feel threatened, then it is even more important to get a “buddy” to help you.

Part of your social support can involve some role-playing situations. What are your personal challenges - travel, restaurants, holidays? Talk with your “buddy” about those issues, brainstorm for new ideas, it helps to have two heads working on a difficult task. Take your “buddy” with you, if it is possible, if not, take their positive thoughts and ideas with you by writing them down and carrying those notes wherever you go. The reminder that you have someone else who wants you to succeed can be enough to help you make the right decision in a challenging situation.

Support from inside yourself
One of the most important sources of support comes from inside you. When you have a difficult task to face, (like weight loss, exercising when you don’t really feel like, putting off immediate pleasure to longer term rewards), you have to draw from your own personal resources every day. Being assertive and learning to say “no” to situations and to people who stand in the way of your progress takes courage, but most of all, it takes practice.

Being a successful problem solver is not something people are born with; it is a skill that can be developed. Your internal responses to events are the result of the decisions you make to react in a certain way. For example, when you eat a dessert, you can tell yourself “I’ve really messed up, I’ve done it again, it’ll never work”. Or, you can say, “this wasn’t part of my plan, now I’ll need to make a plan for avoiding this in the future, and modify what I do the rest of the day if I want to stay on track.” You really do have a choice to say positive or negative things to yourself every day.

Your internal support system can be one of the most important tools critical to your long-term success. When a person only relies on outside support (groups, their buddy, expert books, etc.) they lose sight of their own strength, the stuff that gets you through tough times. Exercise your internal support system, and practice new thoughts, it can lead to new and better decisions.

Even more support
Getting a good plan, getting support from others, and working on your internal support system are keys to reaching your goals, but what if that is not enough? Sometimes, people need extra help in the form of a professional counselor. If you feel that you are dealing with more than you can handle, and you would benefit from a little professional help, don’t hesitate to seek it out. Weight gain can be a symptom of many underlying issues, esp. depression (or a result of it) and sometimes dealing with it alone is overwhelming. A good place to start is your local hospital or physician who can refer you. Look for someone you can connect with, find the right person for good results. Some online diet programs are supported by nutrition professionals and licensed therapists, but check credentials if you want the "real thing".

Self Help
There are many great self-help books.  These can be equally beneficial and offer a great source of support. They can’t be as personal as having your own counselor that you can interact with, but they can be a very good place to start, especially if you find a book that deals specifically with the life situations you are challenged with. Browsing the local bookstore may be the best exercise you can do for yourself, and it can give you a much-needed “jump-start” to help you overcome your barriers to success.

You’re not alone

With so many sources of help, there must be people out there who need them, or they wouldn’t exist! You are not alone in needing a little help now and then from another caring person, whether it is a professional or social source. Take advantage of these sources, and you may find that it is just what you needed!

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