Staying on a diet long enough to achieve major weight loss can feel like a journey down a deserted highway: there are no signs to tell you where you are, no radio programs to ease the boredom, no restaurants to break the tedium and no one to whom you can complain.
A professor who mentored me when I was a new scientist lost about 120 pounds over the two years I worked with him. After he had lost almost 100 pounds, he confided to me that losing the weight was the hardest thing he had ever done: "I got over the hunger and cravings for foods that I couldn't eat pretty quickly, but after a few months the excitement from losing the first twenty pounds or so had worn off and I felt alone, in the middle of a weight loss tunnel with no end in sight. No one was particularly interested in my weight loss anymore, and very few people continued to offer encouragement."
We tend to forget how lonely dieting can be. Weekly meetings of the local Weight Watchers organization don't provide someone to talk to you when you have nothing to do on a Sunday afternoon except eat and they are not going to be around to defend your success at losing weight when, at a family dinner, one of your nastier relatives comments, "Well, I see you still have a lot of weight to lose."
People often gain weight because food is their best friend. Emotional support is crucial to the dieter, because when their "best friend"' is expelled from their life due to the diet, who or what takes its place? Someone I know who gained more than 100 pounds during the end of a difficult marriage told me:
Every night while my husband and children were asleep, I went into the kitchen and ate candy bars that I had stashed away earlier. Those foods felt like my only comfort, and my only friend. The reason I was able to lose weight when I finally started to diet was that two women with whom I worked dieted with me. I saw them every workday and occasionally on weekends. We confided in each other, gave each other encouragement when the diet wasn't going well and even went clothes shopping after we had lost enough weight to justify buying something new.
Like my acquaintance, dieters need someone who is there not only to applaud their successes, but also to commiserate with over failures, share their anger at insensitive remarks from others and remind each other that no matter what their weight loss (or gain) is from week to week, their personality, intelligence and character are the same. Guys may need this support more than women because while women will usually talk about their diets, I suspect this is less true for men.
Although there are many weight-loss blogs giving advice, sharing experiences and offering encouragement, we need something more. What the dieter needs is an actual human being, not a virtual one, with whom to share the dieting journey. Since such a "diet companion" may be hard to find among one's friends or co-workers, why not set up a website similar to the dating site format to find someone?
Some of the same criteria used to find a date could apply, such as geographical proximity, age, marital status and education. Diet specific criteria would also be added, such as shared weight loss history, your current weight loss program, your goal weight and the obstacles that terminated previous diets or caused weight gain, i.e. weight gain on medication. If a dieting "relationship" is established, the companionship that follows could extend to exercising together, occasionally preparing food or going out to eat together, talking, and of course, complaining about issues that impede easy weight loss. Wouldn't it be great to have a friend available for an urgent tweet or text when you are about to dump your diet?
Ultimately, staying on a diet, following an exercise program and changing lifestyle patterns has to be up to the individual. No one else can make the decision to eat or not, to exercise or not, to understand what caused the weight gain and to learn how to prevent it in the future. Your diet companion cannot take your place in that journey to weight loss success. But this individual can take away the loneliness of getting there.
Follow Judith J. Wurtman, PhD on Twitter: www.twitter.com/stopmed_wt_gain