Support v. Tough Love – What’s The Right Mix for Weight Loss Bloggers?

I get a tremendous boost from the people I’ve connected with via this blog. I am also helped by the fact that I’m participating in a weight loss program through my doctor’s office that meets once a week. Since we started in mid-July, I’ve only missed class once, when I was out of town.

Today’s New York Times has an article that discusses what models of working as a group help the most with weight loss.

Research has always shown that if you want to adopt and maintain new habits, it helps to not do it alone . . .

While small groups are better than individual efforts, some kinds of structures are more effective than others . . . What you really need is a group you sort of trust: a group that has a common goal, but is not made up of close friends.   People who are too close to each other tend to fall into permission-giving.  If a member of the group comes back from a vacation five pounds heavier, group members are sympathetic — It was vacation! Of course you gained weight — and the social norm of the group shifts.  It becomes a force for weight gain, much worse than no group at all:  even my weight loss group says it’s O.K.  Sympathetic understanding needs to be balanced by tough love.

I’d love to get your feedback about the right balance between support and tough love when it comes to how we interact through our blog posts.

I hope that my comments on others’ blogs are seen as supportive, and, at times, helpful. I try not to give feedback or advice unless someone has explicitly asked.

At times, I bite my tongue. (No calories!) I see someone post details of a meal, or a habit, that I know is counterproductive to their goal of losing weight.

At those times, I remind myself that everything is relative. True, someone may be drinking a full-sugar coke (in Texas, coke is the generic word for soda, pop, or cola), but should I call them out on it? Or have they cut back from four a day to one? Did they have a rough day, and this was just a slip, or is this a habit that will sabotage them over the long haul?

The research shows just how much a coke can spike your calories and blood sugar and cause you to gain weight over the course of a year, but I have never told someone to just suck it up and cut it out.

When people say they are trying to quit, I offer support for that, but do people want someone to tell them to quit if they haven’t come to it on their own?

What do you want from your blog readers?

Should we all have a page on our blog, or a sidebar, or some regularly-posted language that tells people what kind of feedback we want?

Would you find it helpful if a stranger said, gently, that they read the details of your last meal, and while it may have been healthier than what you are accustomed to eating, that it was still full of some land mines that are known to impede weight loss?

If you’ve skipped three weeks of exercising, or even of blogging, do you want other bloggers who check in with you regularly to prod you? Or would you start to block their comments and avoid checking your blog because you don’t want to hear about it?

I’m very curious to know. I want to help people, both because I know how good I feel now that I’m losing weight and, of course, because I want others to help me. I’m not entirely sure, frankly, how much tough love I can take. Then again, to date, my progress has been fairly steady and the weight has been coming off. I might feel differently if I’d seen a steady gain over a few weeks.

Certainly, knowing that I “have to” report back on exercise goals has helped me hit the gym when I really didn’t want to go. And, simply knowing that others are rooting for me makes tough days much easier.

So tell me: what do you think? What kind of help do you want, not want, give, or hold back on?

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17 Responses to Support v. Tough Love – What’s The Right Mix for Weight Loss Bloggers?

  1. Shonnie says:

    Great post. I know that having too much tough love when losing weight for people who have been chronically overweight can be just as toxic as the foods they choose to consume. It is a tight rope. I think you just have to take each blog buddy on a day by day or rather a post by post basis. I loved life when I was losing weekly (like am now), but there was a time that I hurt so bad (the 4 months that I flatlined) over my lack of loss that it would have nocked the air out of my efforts to keep pressing forward with on my goals for health no real reward for my hard work.

    If I asked for feedback on my efforts — then yeah — I would take all things critical with open arms like a friendly hug. Just my thoughts on your very thought provoking post. 😀

    • Andie says:

      I definitely agree, because I’ve reacted badly to people offering friendly, helpful, but totally unsolicited and unappreciated advice. I’ve never felt the same about my neighbor since she completely out of the blue, not even during a conversation about weight loss (because I don’t know her well enough to talk about that, and I wasn’t losing weight at the time) told me about logging her food on Lose It. And here I am, a huge fan of Lose It for logging food. I wasn’t ready to hear it when she told me about it, and I really wasn’t ready to hear it from her.

  2. trysatori says:

    It is a very fine line between being helpful or hurtful in comments. I personally don’t mind either (now). I am a very big advocate of speaking your mind, but at the beginning of this process, I don’t know if I would have been receptive to constructive criticism or not.

    Deep inside, I think we all know tough love works and will make us rethink about picking up that next can of soda once someone calls us out on it. I think tough love can be supportive if done a better way than just calling someone out.

    • Andie says:

      The beginning is definitely the tough time, because you need to change your habits, but you are so vulnerable. I am absolutely guilty of reading/hearing helpful comments as accusations or criticisms in my own life.

      There’s a difference, too, between constructive criticism and actual tough love of the last-chance-boot-camp-tough-love that you see on afternoon talk shows. I don’t think I could ever be the kind of tough love that yells at someone until they cry. Constructive criticism at the “you might want to think about …” level (see my comment to Evan 🙂 ) is more of what I have in mind.

      Really, I guess the best any of us can do is report on what is working for each of us so that if others want to try something out and/or learn from that example, they can.

  3. heavyevan says:

    I know that I have felt encouraged by every comment you have posted on my blog. I think the crux of it is in the tone of the comment. This is sometimes hard to do in a comment on a blog post, but you can use punctuation to help! I like feeling accountable to my readers because it does make me think twice before I make a food decision.

    I would appreciate being called out on my Coke drinking.

    • Andie says:

      I definitely aim to be helpful and supportive if/when I comment, and find myself using emoticons like crazy to help convey that.

      I think you may want to consider your Mountain Dew consumption … 😀 Now I’m paranoid that everyone who comments will think I was talking about something I read on their blog. 🙂

  4. run4joy59 says:

    hmm…I have mixed feelings about tough love…I think it works in the right situations…has to be given by someone who actually does love you…I also think a lot of people who are just beginning their weight loss journey aren’t ready for tough love…we’re all at different places in our lives and have different needs. I think someone who was verbally abused during their childhood would have difficulty finding anything helpful in most forms of tough love. Having said that, I don’t think the permission granting type of support is helpful either. We have to be accountable for our actions and behavior and may have to do some serious searching before we find a support system that helps us work toward our goals. But…but…if someone asks for your opinion…well, they should be prepared to receive it…if you don’t want to hear someone’s opinion or advice, don’t ask for it.

    • Andie says:

      You are so right about never knowing what a well-intentioned but strong/tough comment might trigger. I do try to pay attention to whether someone is venting or actually asking for advice or opinions.

  5. J. says:

    as others have said, it’s a fine line, and I take it on a case by case/blog by blog basis too. Especially on a weight loss blog, then the goal is it lose weight, so encouragement is good. But some people are all type type and no effort. Those people need something that isn’t encouragement since they already had it. but more than likely won’t make a difference. like I said – case by case.

  6. nikkianne says:

    I think your policy of only giving advice when asked is a great one! It’s something I definitely appreciate. I think in most cases people know what’s wrong in their life/behaviour but they aren’t ready to do something about it. Calling them out on it usually makes them angry, self-conscious or ashamed.

    I think having a blog is a great accountability tool itself. It has been a huge source of motivation for me to keep up the fight (most of the time)! I have been picked up many times by the comments others leave.

    • Andie says:

      I think it is only a matter of time before a new study on the most effective tools for losing weight comes out & names blogging as a top one, right up there with calories in/calories out, food logging, and regular exercise. Just writing it down forces me to think about things. Then, the kind & helpful comments are gravy.

    • I agree that most people probably realize that their behaviors/choices are self-sabotaging (how could they not?). I know someone who has gone to the gym on a regular basis (multiple days a week) for months, but who has not lost a single pound. In fact, the first couple months this person actually *gained* weight. How? This person was not willing (and is still not) to change daily eating habits. I sometimes find it hard not to be critical and offer unsolicited advice about food choices, but I try very hard to bite my tongue. It really is not my place to nit pick about those personal choices, but I do find it frustrating. One time this person mentioned something to be about it and all I said was, “After all, you do not *have* to answer to anyone but yourself. You’re the only one that will suffer the consequences.”

      -Erica

      • Shonnie says:

        Erica — I am assume that you know this persons eating habits well for you know that it their food choices that caused the gain–frustrating. That is always hard to deal with when people ask you questions about things but don’t change. I have a lot of diabetic friends who don’t get they can’t eat a large bowl of pasta and call it diet food–they wonder why their numbers spike–cuz ya ate all that pasta and probably some bread! That’s a no no if you want good numbers….sigh.

        Do you know my story? Everytime I lift weights I gain between 10 and 15 pounds for about 2 weeks before I lose an ounce–then sometimes I never lose. My doc made me stop exercising to lose. I almost freaked on him. He finally allowed me back at my favorite stuff (80 mile bike rides) and dang it all that is what stalled my weight loss after a 70 pound loss roll recently. Some peoples (more than most people think according my doc) bodies will go into starvation mode if they do not eat enough while exercising. I’m back on major moderate–what I would not even call exercise–to lose the rest of this mess. 😀

  7. I’ve wondered the same and struggled with it. Sometimes I offer both in the same comment, telling the blogger to choose. Typically it comes down to how well I think I’ve gotten to know them as to what I think they want to hear. I’ve gotten some great tough love that really made an impression. Like the time a commenter told me to throw away the peanut butter and I did. And haven’t bought any in over a year since:)

  8. Excellent post…and it really made me think. Personally, I would like someone to call me on a potentially sabotaging “thing.” I suppose the only “condition” to that would be…I would prefer it be said nicely (LOL) instead of something almost intentionally harsh. One thing I know about myself is I can take criticism in small doses…and only when it is nice/gentle. Otherwise I find myself automatically getting/feeling defensive.

    I, too, would only offer advice/criticism of another blogger if it was explicitly asked for in their post…and I would only offer it if I was confident I *knew* what I was talking about (such as I have experienced it first hand, or have read extensively on the subject, etc.). Also…I have come across posts where I found myself thinking, “That certainly won’t work for you,” or even, “He/she is sabotaging him/herself by doing that,” and the occassional, “What in the world does he/she think that is going to do?” I would *never* post that in their comments, though. That is (I don’t believe) not my place as a fellow blogger (unless, of course, they did ask for feedback).

    -Erica

    PS) So, feel free to offer advice/suggestions to me on my blog. I know I don’t know everything there is to know about losing weight, so enlighten away! 🙂

  9. rikristin says:

    I also agree with your idea of giving your honest opinion if someone asks for it. Certain activities, or foods, just ring some internal bell and screams for a comment from you. But if that person isn’t ready to hear it then you are wasting your breath and maybe losing the connection with them. If I ask for an opinion, dish it out just as you see it.

    Kristin
    http://www.sheddinginri.wordpress.com

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