Why You Need a Cheerleader for Your Health Goals

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Before I start with my post this week, I wanted to quickly thank all of those who tuned in to watch the first shows of the season so far this week! I’m really excited about what we have in store for you this year, and I hope that we can be partners in making this your healthiest year yet.

One of the biggest challenges my patients face is the daily slog of meeting health goals while managing chronic illness. When someone comes to see me in practice, it generally means they have a lot going on healthwise. Aside from deciding if surgery is necessary, my role is to support them and coach them through the transition from their prior lifestyle to a new, healthier one. The one key factor in making this transition is support. It’s easy to get caught up in the bells and whistles of a weight-loss plan or new diet, but many times your success in staying on track comes down to who you have cheering you on every step of the way.

The importance of having a good cheering squad behind you was reinforced to me by two new studies published this week. The first asked a large group of individuals about their experience living with diabetes. Almost half of those surveyed had negative emotional, psychological and social experiences related to their illness including fear, anxiety, worry, depression and even discrimination from others. How did they deal with this hardship? Those who coped the best had a positive outlook on their disease and support from family, friends and health-care professionals.

The authors went on to say that the attitudes people hold toward their disease reflects how they manage it. Those who see their diabetes as helping them to make positive life changes are probably also more likely to take their medications regularly, stay on track with their diet and weight loss, and share what they’re doing with those they love. In turn, their family can help them each step of the way and motivate them with this positive psychology when they start to get off track.

The second study looked at how online communities can support those looking to lose weight. They found that those who were linked in to a community of people with similar goals on sites like Facebook and Twitter tended to lose more weight than those without an online presence. Just like healthy coping in diabetes, the encouragement of these online communities helps those losing weight to be more proactive and contribute more to their health goals.

The gains were modest though, and it’s likely that having an in-person cheerleading squad is better than an online one. Nevertheless, having a community of people to support you and keep you on track when things get tough is one of the most important ways you can ensure your success, whether that success be losing 10 pounds or keeping your blood sugar in the right range.

If you’re a loved one of someone struggling to meet their healthy living goals, I have some advice for you, too. Ask that person in your life directly how you can help them. A simple “What can I do to help you with [insert health goal] today or this week?” goes a long way. Learn what you can about their disease or illness and attend doctor visits if that person allows so you’re up to date on what they need to be doing. Just by being interested, you’re supporting them and holding them accountable.