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It’s much easier to stick with a weight loss and exercise plan when you have support.

When you join a support group, whether in-person or online, you can share tips on diet and exercise, find an exercise buddy, and discuss your obstacles and successes. Support groups can also help enhance your mental health as you face any challenges with your new lifestyle.

Your weight loss journey can be challenging, but research from 2016 shows that having peer support can help people follow a plan involving healthful eating and regular exercise for longer.

In fact, diet and exercise programs delivered in groups seem to be more effective for promoting weight loss. One 2018 study showed that, on average, people in a group program lost about 7.7 pounds more than people who didn’t enroll in a group program after 6 months.

But what kind of support should you choose? Support comes in many forms. Here are seven places you can find the help you need during your weight loss journey.

Participating in a weight loss program with a group of friends may result in more weight loss than if you do the same weight loss program alone. The key to long-term success is having others to talk to who are facing the same challenges as you.

Together, you can make healthy choices as you work to create new habits. In-person support groups with participants who are all on a weight loss journey together can offer companionship on top of accountability.

For those who may not want to meet in person due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many support groups now offer virtual meetings.

How to find weight loss peer support in your area?

You can team up with a few friends to join a local gym and take classes or search online for an exercise or weight loss support group nearby.

You can also search Meetup.com for weight loss or group fitness training. Another option is to search for support groups on Facebook and narrow down your results by location.

You can also try Overeaters Anonymous, which allows you to search for local meetings that can help you overcome eating and dietary challenges.

These meetings may be held at local hospitals and often include medical professionals who can answer your questions. The organization says it provides access to meetings in 75 countries.

You may also want to check out a virtual option called The Obesity Action Coalition, which also maintains a list of in-person support groups by state.

If you’re seeking the help of medical professionals, another option is to join small weight loss groups at universities or medical centers.

Psychologists, nutritionists, or other weight loss professionals often run these clinic-based support groups. Over the course of several weeks or months, you’ll be given individualized attention to help you create a new healthy lifestyle.

Psychology Today’s local support search engine can help you find groups led by a medical professional. In addition, you can ask your physician or call local universities, hospitals, or clinics for a referral. Many of these support groups may also have a virtual option.

Another option that doesn’t require in-person meetings involves online support forums. Most forums offer a safe place for members to share stories as well as diet and exercise plans, plus seek motivation.

Examples include:

Keep in mind, though, that many of the people on these forums aren’t medical professionals and may offer you inaccurate advice. Always check with a doctor before starting a new diet plan or exercise program.

Weight loss apps are incredibly useful. They can help you track your calorie intake and exercise. Many of them also offer support in the form of social media connections and chat rooms.

For example, the app MyFitnessPal has a message forum where you can connect with other users to share tips and success stories.

The app for the wearable fitness sensor Fitbit also has strong community features. Once you purchase a Fitbit watch, you can connect with other friends and family who also have a Fitbit. You can participate in challenges with them and even find a local challenge with people you don’t know.

Another app known as FatSecret allows you to chat with others and create or join groups to connect with people who have similar goals.

While these programs often come with a cost, they are another choice that may keep you engaged and focused on an exercise and diet program.

WW (formerly Weight Watchers), for example, is one of the most popular weight loss programs in the world. Its success is at least partially owed to its use of social support.

Every membership level — including a basic membership — provides 24/7 online chat support and access to their digital community. You can also access group meetings or receive one-on-one support from a coach for an additional cost.

Another commercial program that has shown success in long-term studies is Jenny Craig, according to a 2015 research review. Along with a meal delivery program, Jenny Craig offers community-based support in the form of online forums and member blogs.

If your doctor suggests bariatric surgery, your entire life approach will likely change following it. You’ll have to stick to a strict diet and adjust to life with your new appearance. It’s important to be able to talk with others who are going through the same changes as you.

Ask your bariatric surgery center for a referral to a bariatric surgery group or try searching on Facebook or Meetup.com for a bariatric surgery group nearby.

These groups are often open to people who have undergone weight loss surgery, as well as those who are considering the procedure. Friends and family may also be welcome to attend with you.

For example, American Bariatric is a forum where you can interact with people who have undergone or want to have bariatric surgery,

Local medical institutions may be particularly equipped to offer support groups specifically for bariatric surgery. There, you will also get the support and advice of medical professionals.

If all else fails, sometimes taking your own initiative can help you get what you want. Start your own support group and find participants who can give you the support that you need.

Some ways to start your own support group include:

  • Start a small support group with interested friends or family with whom you can exercise, plan meals, and keep each other accountable.
  • Start a group on Meetup or Facebook and make a post advertising for people to join.
  • Reach out to a weight loss organization in your area and ask if they have a support group. If not, volunteer to lead a support group

How to start your own weight loss support group?

Once you’ve figured out the kind of support group you want to have and have recruited some participants, follow these tips from The Well Project to help make the group a success:

  • Decide on the focus. Consider these types of questions: Is it a general weight loss support? Is it about healthful eating? Is it about exercise? Is it about weight loss surgery?
  • Decide on the size. Online groups can be larger than in-person groups, but you may want to set a limit to make the group easier to manage.
  • Decide on the space. If you are holding an in-person support group, make sure you have a venue with sufficient space. If the meeting is virtual, make sure you and everyone participating has the necessary technological access.
  • Decide on the rules. What kind of discussion is going to take place? Make sure everyone knows what is allowed and what is not. In general, keep all conversation and rhetoric within the support, whether online or in-person, respectful and nonjudgmental.
  • Decide on the content. Having a support group does not have to mean just meeting with no agenda in mind. You can create an agenda for conversation, invite speakers, or organize special social events. Ask your group members to make suggestions.
  • Delegate. Running a support group can be time consuming. As for member volunteers who can take on some organizational roles to help keep the group going.

If you’re living with obesity, one of the best ways to get started on your weight loss journey is to find a group of people to support you along the way. Friends, family, and even strangers can give you the motivation you need and the advice that’ll help you maintain a healthy lifestyle.

Online forums, in-person support groups, and social media apps can all help you through your weight loss journey. Consider your local medical clinics, universities, or hospitals for physical-led support groups.

In a time when many people prefer virtual meetings, many in-person meetings now offer an option to participate online. If you have time and interest, consider starting your own support group.