behavior change and social support

Behavior Change Strategies + Social Support: A Scientific Approach to Weight Management

By: David Heber, M.D., Ph.D., F.A.C.P., F.A.S.N. – Chairman, Herbalife Nutrition Institute

 

Breaking bad nutrition and fitness habits can be complicated. Through constant repetition, they become part of our lives. Furthermore, when you add pleasure to those unhealthy habits –like how good pizza tastes– the pleasure centers of the brain will create the craving to repeat that stimulus.

 

Following a brief, scientifically referenced discussion of the widely accepted psychological principles of behavior change, several published studies from third-parties and independent from Herbalife Nutrition underpin social support in weight management. These studies were held over varying time periods and with various groups but all suggest that when it comes to weight management, the combination of two approaches is most likely to work for substituting bad habits with healthy ones: behavior change strategies reinforced by social support.

 

Habits are, essentially, patterns of behavior, so by tackling a pattern, you are working on breaking the habit itself. Scientific literature stresses three specific behavior modifications techniques that work when trying to manage weight:

1. Self-monitoring

It’s not about accuracy, but about being aware of what you eat and how much you exercise. Research has consistently demonstrated that self-monitoring is associated with improved treatment outcomes, and patients report that it is one of the most helpful tools in weight management.

 

2. Stimulus control

Identifying and modifying cues associated with overeating and inactivity can make it easier to maintain healthy habits. Controlling cues associated with overeating or a sedentary lifestyle can be helpful for long-term weight maintenance because exposure to these triggers may cause weight regain.

 

3. Stress management

Stress is a primary trigger for overeating, Deep breathing, muscle relaxation and meditation are proven stress reduction techniques and can reduce distraction from stressful events which can interfere with the adoption and maintenance of new behaviors.

 

Social support can make a difference when trying to lead a healthier and happier life. We know that good habits are tough to establish, so having a community around you for support, guidance and encouragement can be critical.

 

Several independent studies show that higher levels of social support are associated with greater success in achieving and maintaining weight loss. A key finding is that groups do not need to be primarily oriented toward weight management. Peer support can help people to become more self-accepting, develop interpersonal skills or new ways to manage stressful situations, all of which, in turn, might help with weight management objectives as a secondary positive consequence.

 

It’s also important to note that nowadays, social support comes in different shapes and sizes. It can be exercising with a friend, joining a supervised attendance program, engaging on weekly e-mails with tailored feedback and lessons, or even posting regularly on social media. High online activity, positive votes or likes received per post and engagement in discussions that might provide social support are associated with greater weight loss.

 

While more research is needed in this area, these initial findings are promising. Whatever the motivation to be in better shape may be, engaging in a weight management journey entails many positive outcomes, such as having more energy to be with your loved ones, better overall health and getting to know like-minded people. That is why this important decision should be undertaken with discipline, joy and any tool for behavior change that can be helpful. Remember: no effort is too small or dismissible.

 

To learn more about these independent studies, the report is available to download here.