Creating Support Systems
One way to stay on target is to seek help and support for your goals. Ultimately, only you can help yourself by taking responsibility for your own behavior. But that doesn’t mean that you have to do everything alone. Seek support from your partner, family and friends. It is important to learn the technique of building support from the people around you. You can use these techniques no matter what your goal is, but for the sake of simplicity, we’re going to use “weight loss” as an example here.
There are three types of scenarios you may to find yourself in:
- You may find yourself in a restaurant eating all the bread in the breadbasket before the meal is served. You may see the problem and ask the waiter to remove the basket. This is an example to getting a complete stranger to support you.
- You may find yourself eating all the leftover food on the dinner table before you can put it away in the refrigerator. You might ask another family member to take care of the leftovers for you so you are not tempted to eat them. Learning how to ask for support from a family member or a close friend can be difficult, but it is a skill you need to cultivate.
- You may have no one to turn to for help. You may have to learn how to put meals on the table that are so carefully planned, there are no leftovers. This is an example of depending on yourself to support yourself as you identify and solve problems.
Enlisting The Support of Strangers
Many people tell us they are too shy or too nervous to ask for what they need. Somehow asking a waiter or waitress to do something just seems too hard or embarrassing. We want to remind you that you are paying the bill when you eat out and these people are there to serve you. So remember that the money you are spending is your hard earned money and don’t be afraid to speak up for what you want. Your waiter or waitress will probably not even notice the request. They are working hard and they want to please you because they hope you will leave them a nice tip. So the system works both ways. You ask for what you want and they get a tip.
Enlisting The Support of Family Members, Loved Ones and Friends
Pick people who you know want only the best for you and who will encourage you. They should be available to listen to your thoughts and feelings and encourage you, perhaps spend time exercising with you, and share the priority you’ve placed on developing a healthier lifestyle. An ideal support person might be someone who also is participating in a weight-loss program.
Things may get more difficult if you are in a restaurant with family or friends, and you hesitate to ask for the breadbasket to be removed because you fear it will deprive others. You are also a bit uncomfortable, perhaps, “announcing” that you are trying to manage your weight.
In our experience, people are gentle when you disclose your honest efforts to face a problem. You can choose to speak up about the problem or, without offering an explanation, you can simply ask if anyone minds if you ask to have the breadbasket removed. At this point, most people take a piece of bread if they want one, and they are just as happy to see the basket removed as you are.
Things can be most difficult if you would like to ask a spouse or significant other for support and you are fearful that they will say no, or feel threatened, or ridicule your efforts or hurt your feelings. There are lots of reasons why you might hesitate.
You have to do 4 things to prepare yourself:
- Think about what it is you want and state exactly what you would like your spouse/friend to do for you. It is very important to state it clearly and if you think you may not be able to do that, take the time to practice. Write it down in a journal and keep refining it until it is clearly and simply stated. Don’t make the request until you are ready.
- Choose the right time and place to make your request. You need to think about when your spouse or friend is most relaxed and most receptive, and choose that moment to make your request.
- Be prepared for different possible responses your spouse might give you. Your spouse/friend may feel threatened to learn you are going to change the way you eat or exercise. Your job is to simply make your request and to give your loved one some time to think about it. Don’t expect a response immediately.
- Be prepared for the possibility that your spouse does not want to cooperate. In that case, you have to decide if you want to move ahead with your plans anyway. You may want to look elsewhere for support. You may want to identify a friend or someone else you trust for support.
Learning How to Support Yourself
Supportive people may not always be around to offer support at the exact moment when you may need it. Sometimes YOU may need to be the source of your own support. If that is the case, and frankly, it usually is the case, it helps to get out a journal and write down when you need support most of all.
Some suggestions for doing this are:
- Recognize your positives. If you are not aware of all the things you do each day to manage your eating and activity, keep a journal or a list for at least one day. Every time you do something (e.g. buy the food you need, refrain from buying a food you have difficulty controlling, go for a 10-minute walk), write it down. You’ll be surprised at how long the list really is!
- Give yourself credit (and a well deserved pat on the back) for: 1. the many things you do each day to manage your eating and activity 2. each time you have to fight with yourself to do something that is difficult for you (e.g. dealing with a stressful situation without eating) — and WIN!
Allow yourself to feel good about all that you are doing for yourself.
- Say the things to yourself that you would want a friend or supportive family member to say to you. What words of encouragement would you want to hear? What kind of a pep talk would be most helpful?
- Become aware of some of the unsupportive comments you may say to yourself and their impact on you. (This is called negative self-talk). If necessary, jot a few of them down. Take a look at what you’ve written and ask yourself:: How do each of these comments make me feel? When I feel this way, what happens to my eating or activity behavior?
- Challenge any unsupportive self-talk. Whenever you notice that you are talking to yourself in an unsupportive manner (e.g. putting yourself down, beating yourself up), STOP. Ask yourself: Is this what I would say to a friend about whom I care a great deal? If not, what would I say if I wanted to be supportive of him/her? Then say those words to yourself.
Reward yourself periodically for making changes in your eating, activity and lifestyle. Examples of non-food rewards might include tickets to a concert, the theater, or a movie, a weekend of golf or a weekend trip to a resort spa that includes hiking, etc.
You can use the following process to identify problems and develop strategies for addressing them all by yourself.
- Think about what the problem is. Perhaps you find you lose control and overeat when you visit your family or go out to dinner. Perhaps you are feeling too tired to get up and exercise in the morning, but that is the only time in your schedule when you possibly fit it in.
- Get out your journal and describe the problem in writing as clearly and completely as you can.
- Break the problem down into the smallest possible steps.
- Think about each of the steps one at a time so you are not overwhelmed.
- Start with the first step and write down possible ways in which you can address it. Maybe you can figure out a way to get to bed a little earlier? Maybe you can visit your family without having a meal? Maybe they can visit you instead at least some of the time? Perhaps you can learn to prepare simple meals at home and eat out less often.
- Think of a reward that would be appropriate for yourself if you take that first step successfully.
- Now repeat the process with each step you have identified in addressing the problem. Remember to identify a reward for yourself as you work through each step.
- Now you are ready to start to put your plan into action, one step at a time.
- Record in your journal how you worked out each step and what reward(s) you gave to yourself.
- Record what you learned from this experience.
Pulling together all of the key concepts:
- Remove the negative tape – the harsh self criticism – and throw it away. It is NOT associated with long term weight loss success, in fact it is debilitating and counterproductive.
- Purchase a journal and record your vital statistics in it. Stay neutral about the data – it is just information.
- Monitor yourself by keeping track of your personal data (weight, food, activity, etc.) in your journal. Be as honest as possible and remember to include your thoughts and feelings as well.
- Seek out support for your weight management efforts wherever you can and develop a support system from strangers, loved one’s, family and friends.
- Support yourself by anticipating problems, breaking them down into small steps and rewarding yourself as you tackle each step one at a time.