WELLNESS
12/23/2014 08:18 am ET Updated Dec 25, 2014

Your Family May Be Sabotaging Your Weight Loss Efforts

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A number of studies have shown that criticism (either from yourself or from others) isn't a particularly effective motivator -- and according to new research, this is especially true when it's coming from your family.

Women whose families are critical about their weight tend to put on even more, researchers at the University of Waterloo in Canada found.

"When we feel bad about our bodies, we often turn to loved ones -- families, friends and romantic partners -- for support and advice," the study's lead author, social psychologist Christine Loger, Ph.D., said in a statement. "How they respond can have a bigger effect than we might think."

The researchers asked a group of college-age women about their height and weight, and about how they feel when they see the number on the scale. Five months later, the researchers asked the women if they had spoken to their loved ones about their weight concerns, and if so, how they had responded. Three months after that, they asked the women to record their weight again, and asked them how they felt about their current weight.

They found that the women who had received a higher number of "acceptance messages" about their weight -- meaning that their loved ones had expressed acceptance of the women just as they are -- experienced better weight maintenance and, in some cases, weight loss than the women who did not receive positive messages from their families.

The women in the study gained some weight overall over the eight-month course of the study, which the researchers note is common for young adults. But the women who received messages from their families that they looked fine tended to maintain their weight or even lose a little weight -- they lost an average of one pound -- while women who received fewer acceptance messages from their families gained an average of 4.5 pounds.

So while family members may think they're making critical comments to be helpful, those words are often misguided. The findings suggest that women benefit more from comments that make them feel accepted.

"Lots of research finds that social support improves our health," Logel said in the statement. "An important part of social support is feeling that our loved ones accept us just the way we are."

Previous research has shown that more extreme weight criticism and discrimination against people because of their weight -- also known as "fat shaming" -- may also do more harm than good, leading people who are trying to lose weight to actually gain weight.

"Everyone, including doctors, should stop blaming and shaming people for their weight and offer support, and where appropriate, treatment," that study's lead author, Jane Wardle, Ph.D., said in a university press release.

The findings were published in the journal Personal Relationships.

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