Focus ~ Food ~ Fitness

The Power of Friendship

The Power of Friendship

Teaming up is more fun, and it may even help you shed more pounds

The Pivotal Health Plan is designed to get people together in small groups and encourage those in the group to team up as "health buddies."

There's no getting around it: The road to health and wellness can be a bumpy one. But much like life's other journeys, the going can be smoother when you have someone to share the trip.

That's where a "health buddy" comes in -- a partner who not only shares your diet, weight loss and workout goals, but can help you navigate a kinder, gentler path to your chosen destination. Many experts now say buddying up can make the difference between failure and success with any health plan.

"Most people put all their effort into finding the right diet or exercise program but don't put any energy into creating a support and accountability system, and too often, that's where the devil lies," says Adam Shafran, DC, an exercise physiologist and chiropractor who is the author of You Can't Lose Weight Alone: The Partner Power Weight Loss Program.

Shafran, who also hosts Dr. Fitness and the Fat Guy, an Internet radio show focusing on weight loss, says people fail not necessarily because they're following a bad health plan, but because they lack a good support system.

"It can be the deciding factor that makes a health plan work -- or not work," say Shafran.

Some psychologists agree.

"In the realm of dieting, there is evidence that social support is a positive factor influencing weight loss," says Kenneth Schwarz, PhD, who with his wife, Julie Schwarz, wrote the book Maria's Last Diet: How to Break through the 15 Obstacles to Achieve Diet Success.

In research published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology in 2005, doctors at Brown Medical School and Dartmouth University found that people who had an exercise buddy who successfully lost weight were more successful at losing, too.

What Makes a Good Buddy

Most of us know what we expect in in a partner, and it's easy to count the virtues of our best friends. But if you're thinking of using these same guidelines to find a health buddy, you could be making a mistake.

"You may have a partner or a best friend who you love dearly, but if you're still overweight and struggling to lose it, then clearly, that partnership, while perfect in other areas of your life, is not the right relationship to help you lose weight," says Joey Dweck, founder and CEO of, an online "match service" for those seeking weight loss partners.

As such, he says, seeking a health buddy who has the same qualities you see in your partner or best friend may not be the ideal solution.

Experts say that sometimes, qualities you would never tolerate in a partner -- like holding you accountable for every bite you take -- could be the very qualities you need in a weight loss buddy.

The bottom line: "Choosing a health partner, like choosing a health plan, is a very personal matter," says Schwarz. Just as there is no one diet that's perfect for every person, Schwarz tells WebMD, there is no one type of health buddy that is universally better than another.

Shafran agrees, "The truth is that even if we share the same goals, what it takes to get us there is different for every person. And that means every person needs something slightly different in a health buddy."

So how do you figure out what you need? Look deep inside yourself and be brutally honest about what you need to get your weight loss mojo working, Dweck says.

Don't just focus on doing things together, Shafran says.

"Health buddies are just two people who share a common goal and know they can count on each other to help them achieve that goal in whatever way it takes to do that," says Shafran.

For some, that may mean working out together or getting together to cook or swap recipes a couple times a week. For others, it can mean taking turns babysitting so that each of you can get to the gym separately.

Another consideration is mutual availability. Both partners should agree up front on how much time and energy they have to devote to the partnership, and discuss what they need from each other during that time.

Also important: The primary mode of contact and support. No matter what your mode of communication, it's important that buddies spend time listening to each other.

"It can be online in a chat; it can be on the phone; it can be in an email; or it can be in person, as long as there is some time that each of you can devote to listening and encouraging the other," says Dweck.

It's also important to recognize that encouragement comes in many different forms.

"For some people, it means hearing kind and supportive words; for others, it means having someone come by and literally drag them out of the house and to the gym," Dweck says. "As long as both buddies know what the other needs and expects, then they can be there for each other."

The Pivotal Health Plan is designed to get you together in small groups and encourage you to team up as a "health buddy."

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