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Social Supports Can Sabotage a Person’s Weight Loss Goals

— July 7, 2023

A person’s support system can inadvertently hinder their health goals.

A recent study conducted by Professor Jane Ogden and her team at the University of Surrey has shed light on the unintentional sabotage individuals with weight loss goals face from their family and friends. The research, titled “Sabotage, Collusion, and Being a Feeder: Towards a New Model of Negative Social Support and Its Impact on Weight Management,” explores the detrimental effects of social supports on weight loss journeys. Published in the June edition of Current Obesity Reports, the study emphasizes the negative impact of three main factors: sabotage, collusion, and feeding.

According to Professor Ogden, weight loss often brings about changes in an individual, such as increased confidence and altered social dynamics in relationships. However, these changes may not be welcomed by family and friends who may consciously or subconsciously attempt to derail an individual’s weight loss attempts in order to maintain the status quo.

The Surrey study examines both intentional and unintentional acts of sabotage. Examples of sabotage include discouraging individuals from adopting healthier diets, creating barriers to attending support groups, and undermining efforts to increase physical activity by refusing to exercise with the person or highlighting the cost of gym memberships rather than gym benefits. Moreover, criticism and negative comments might be employed to lower the self-esteem and confidence of those striving to lose weight.

Social Supports Can Sabotage a Person's Weight Loss Goals
Photo by RDNE Stock project from Pexels

Collusion, on the other hand, is described as a passive and benign form of negative input from social supports aimed at avoiding conflict. This entails friends and family completely avoiding discussions about obesity, even when it is evident that individuals are struggling to achieve their weight loss goals. Collusion, while less intentional than other forms of sabotage, still undermines weight loss efforts.

Feeding (or feeder) behavior constitutes a specific form of sabotage where an individual is coerced into consuming more food than they desire. This behavior may stem from various motivations such as not wanting to waste food, using food as a means to express love, demonstrating power or wealth through food, exerting control over the individual’s eating habits or being concerned that the person isn’t eating enough even when this isn’t the case. The primary reasons for engaging in feeder behavior as stated by the study were out of love, a desire to prevent food waste, and a desire to prevent hunger.

The Surrey study offers a counter perspective to previous research that emphasizes the positive impact of social supports on health outcomes. While other studies predict weight loss, weight maintenance, and improved well-being in the context of obesity management, the Surrey study highlights how social support can impede individuals in achieving their weight management goals.

Overall, the research conducted by Professor Ogden and her team emphasizes the detrimental effects of negative social support on weight loss journeys. By identifying and exploring the various forms of sabotage, collusion, and feeding, the study sheds light on the unintentional obstacles faced by individuals striving to lose weight. Recognizing these challenges can help those who struggle with their weight develop strategies to counteract negative social impacts and foster a more supportive environment. Ultimately, creating awareness around these detrimental behaviors can pave the way for healthier relationships and increased success in weight management.


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Sabotage, Collusion, and Being a Feeder: Towards a New Model of Negative Social Support and Its Impact on Weight Management

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