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Supporting Our Supporters

Amanda Peterson, RDN, LD | Molly Jones, RDN, LD
May 30, 2019
Image of three people doing yoga together.

During May’s bariatric support group, we tried to help our supporters! Being a support for a friend or family member is an honorable undertaking. To allocate time from your own day to help others can be life changing for the both of you. However, being the support for someone else can also leave you needing support. This relationship of giving and caring can go both ways to make all parties involved feel empowered and motivated to continue with healthful behavior changes. Below are a few tips & tricks that we discussed during May’s support group to ensure a positive experience in the supporter/supportee relationship:

  1. Establish clear expectations and boundaries
    Whether you are someone’s support, or someone is supporting you, it's important to establish clear expectations and boundaries. Why type of support do you need? Is it psychical, emotional or both? This is a team effort. From the beginning, clear communication is a vital part of having a positive, supportive relationship.
  2. Set a schedule
    Establishing a consistent time, place and opportunity to provide support can prevent supporters from becoming overwhelmed and becoming burnt out. For example, meeting up at the same coffee shop, or scheduling a phone call for 1 hour every week provides a consistent chance for conversation to take place. Knowing that you aren’t going anywhere and there is going to be another opportunity in the near future can be reassuring and comforting for the supportee. Bombarding your supporter with emails/texts/phone calls every day is not the most effective way to ask for support from those you love.
  3. Friendly reminders & “I” language.
    Your supporters do care about you and want the very best for you. However, they may not always be in tune to your needs/wants/desires. Remember, your struggles may not be their struggles on a day-to-day basis. Don’t be hesitant to gently remind your supporter when things get off track. Try to utilize “I” language to relay your position if you feel uncomfortable or upset. For example, “I feel uncomfortable when there are lots of sweets in the house” or “I feel really stressed under these circumstances”. This gives your supporter an opportunity to provide clear, corrective action to better meet your needs.
  4. Acknowledge their efforts
    Just as you need support, so does your supporter! Acknowledge and thank them for taking time to help you reach your goals. Ensuring that they feel respected and appreciated creates a positive environment for further growth.
  5. Recognize signs of burnout.
    Being a support can sometimes leave you feeling emotionally and physically drained. Signs of burnout include feeling irritable, helpless, or exhausted, withdrawn from friends and family, disinterest in activities, changes in appetite or weight, changes in sleep and getting sick more often.
  6. Take a step back 
    If you are noticing any of these signs/symptoms it may be good to touch base with the person you are supporting. Miscommunications and unrealistic expectations may go unrecognized. As a supporter, don’t be hesitant to be open with the person you are supporting. You have a close relationship, so the more communication between the two of you, the better. Now may be a good time to revisit the clarity of your expectations and boundaries.
  7. Focus on what you can do 
    Just as you are ensuring that your friend or family member is on track with their healthful habits, these are all aspects of your own life that need to be focused on too as the supporter. Below are a few ways to manage stress/overall feelings of being overwhelmed.
    • Tips & tricks to manage stress
      • Allot 10 –15 minutes to per day to distress in a way that works for you, whether that’s yoga, doing some deep breathing, or going for a walk. Prioritize time to clear your head.
      • Plan ahead – when we are rushing around, we are more likely to become stressed. Keep a daily planner to manage your obligations for the week.
      • Think positive – recognize moments when you are feeling down. Embrace these feelings at that time and work to move forward from them.
  8. It’s okay to say no 
    If you’ve tried to establish clear communication with your supportee but are still feeling overwhelmed, maybe right now you aren’t in the right headspace to be a supporter. It’s okay to say no and take a break to allow yourself to be at your best.
  9. Find a support group 
    If friends or family are not able to provide the support you need, consider exploring additional support groups. Support groups can be both helpful for the supporter and supportee!

Amanda and Molly are the MUSC Metabolic & Bariatric Surgery Program Registered Dietitians. With 15+ years experience combined, they facilitate behavior change through nutrition counseling for weight loss and maintenance with children through adults.


About the Author

Amanda Peterson, RDN, LD | Molly Jones, RDN, LD

Keywords: Weight Loss, Bariatric, Wellness, Support