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What Works Best to Stay Motivated: "Tough Love" or Helpful Support?

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Friends are great. When you need a shoulder to cry on, they will be there for you. When you accomplish your greatest achievement, they will go out and celebrate with you. When you want to lose weight, they will encourage you to exercise more and eat healthier. Or will they?

As a dietitian, my friends ask me nutrition-related questions frequently and I always offer support if they are trying to lose weight. For instance, I will work out with them or will jog an extra mile even when I'm tired. I also provide healthy nutrition tips to help them reach their weight loss goal. However, I've seen some people tell their friends that their lack of exercise and their junk food raid in the afternoon are not helping them meet this goal. Which method is more effective: A friend who is supportive or a "frenemy" who only offers negative advice?

In my experience, I have always felt that positive energy is always more helpful than thinking about things negatively. A friend that you can always count on to workout with, prepare healthy meals, or set realistic weight goals will help you achieve more success. On a daily basis, I encourage children and adults to exercise with friends or family members, even if it is only a 10-minute walk to school. For children, family support is extremely important and I see results in children when a parent is willing to change cooking habits or to take the child to the park more frequently. Additionally, when people are playing sports or learning to cook healthier, they tend to attend classes or meet in groups for the extra encouragement. A great example of group enthusiasm is the show, The Biggest Loser, where contestants work to lose weight. Although they are competing against one another, everyone is working towards the same goal, and they do encourage each other to keep up the strength to continue.

On the other hand, some people find "tough love" to be more of a motivator. I find support helpful; however, I also find that negative energy encourages me to work harder to prove that person wrong. I have found that some of my friends and patients do not change their exercise or dietary habits until someone has told them that they have gained a lot of weight or are eating too many fattening foods. Sometimes negative energy promotes an increase in motivation leading towards a healthier lifestyle.

Each person has their own preference to the kind of support they need. Let your friends and family know what you find the most helpful because that will be the easiest way for you to succeed in achieving your lifestyle goals.

Rhea Li is a Registered Dietitian who received her Bachelor's degree in Nutrition and Master's degree in Public Health from the University of Texas. She has a special interest in working with children and has received her certification in pediatric weight management. Currently, she is working on a research study to determine the importance of nutrition in pediatric cancer patients. In the past, she has worked with pregnant women and their children. In her spare time, she enjoys being with family, exercising, traveling and of course, eating.

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