Hobba’s successful use of a support network is backed by solid research showing that people are more effective at losing weight—and keeping it off—when they embark on weight-loss programs with friends, new or old. In a 1999 study at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, 166 people were recruited to participate in a weight-loss program—half of the people alone and half with a support network of three friends or family members. Of those who participated alone, only 24 percent maintained their weight loss after 10 months, compared with 66 percent of those who completed the program with the support of a friend or family network.
The same is true for adhering to exercise regimens: research shows that if you work out with friends or colleagues, as Hobba does, it’s more likely that you’ll stick with your exercise rituals. A 2009 study of 344 men and women at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine found that exercising with a partner boosted weight loss.
The third key to making lasting healthy change is addressing your food and physical activity environment, says Nelson. “Your home environment is especially critical, but your work and community environments matter too.”
In the fall of 2011, Nelson traveled 6,800 miles across the United States, from Alaska through the Heartland, the South, the Midwest, to the East, stopping at towns along the way to spread the message and launch “Change Clubs.” These groups of 12 to 15 women promote healthier lifestyles in their communities by encouraging healthy eating in homes and schools, arranging group walks and working with officials to make streets safer for biking and walking. In each town, Nelson visited several homes to identify and categorize the healthy and not-so-healthy food items stored in refrigerators and pantries.