Time to Phone a Friend

Accountability can help get you fit

Like most people, Amy Fairbanks needs some help to follow through on a workout regimen. - YOUNG KWAK
Young Kwak
Like most people, Amy Fairbanks needs some help to follow through on a workout regimen.

If you want to succeed at getting fit and achieving a healthy weight, don’t keep it a secret. A recent study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine confirms what many fitness experts have long been touting: accountability works. Study participants who were kept accountable to their nutrition program through food journals and review were twice as likely to stick with it and get the results they wanted. A similar study, done months earlier in the same journal, showed the same outcome. Out of 1,685 weight-loss seekers, the single biggest predictor of their success was if they were held accountable through diaries in their fitness program. Accountability works — that’s the simple truth.

Whether it’s committing to a food journal being reviewed by another person — a friend, a coach, a mentor, whoever — the simple fact of having to commit to someone other than yourself can improve your chances for long-term success with your weight loss and fitness program.

Accountability can take many forms — on paper, with a friend, in groups or even with long-distance calls. One study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, however, found that accountability in the form of personal contact (rather than in an online or technology-related medium) was more successful in the long run.

Make sure that whoever you’re going to get support from understands your goals and is a positive thinker. Oddly enough, family members and friends can sometimes be a drawback when looking for support for your fitness goals. They may hesitate to hold you accountable; if that’s the case, look elsewhere. Maybe a co-worker is looking to drop a few pounds. If someone at your church is in need, offer to get together for a walk or exercise session.

“In the past, I have met with friends at the gym, because I was uncomfortable going there on my own,” says Sarah Durkin, an avid exerciser in Spokane. “But sometimes that would be unreliable when they skip out on you.”

Other ways you can enlist support and gain the advantage of accountability:

• Hire a local professional (trainer, dietitian, weight-loss expert) or join a local weight-loss or support group;

• Announce your goals and check in weekly with family or friends and update them on your progress;

• Track your food intake and exercise using a journal and report weekly to someone else or write an online blog about your quest for weight loss;

• Weigh in weekly and chart your progress and put it by your bathroom mirror.

An easy and great way to find accountability is to join a group led by a professional. Most of the exercisers in the above study found that the best way to succeed was to be a part of a class or group that holds them accountable for their progress. This can solve not only the problem of accountability, but also other main reasons people fail with fitness goals. Procrastination, lack of discipline and not knowing what to do were among the top three reasons adults identified as obstacles to achieving fitness resolutions, according to a U.S. Department of Labor survey.

You may be surprised that it helps to put some money on the line; after all, we spend our money on things that are important and gratifying to us. Durkin says, “I have been working with a local trainer in a group-style class where I work out three times a week… It definitely helps to be committed financially and know I’m paying to have someone be there for me and keep me on track with both my exercise and eating, because it’s easy to skip on out something if you don’t have any consequences for it.”

If you’re not convinced of accountability yet, check this out: In a study at Virginia Tech, researchers divided people starting a walking program into two groups. Every week, each individual in the first group was held accountable by a friend on his or her exercise program; the other group had no such support. At the end of 24 weeks, nearly half of the individuals who received weekly support were still walking compared to just one out of every 50 in the second group.

Accountability is likely to be the single most important part of achieving weight loss and getting fit. Having someone else take an interest in your outcome is hugely important, and the support of positive-minded friends can be a big advantage. And let’s don’t forget the unpleasant prospect of being embarrassed if you fail to live up to your weekly goals — that can actually be a motivating factor, too. Whatever the reason, accountability works. So make the commitment to achieving your goals: Tell someone about it.

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