Trying to lose weight? Then you probably know by now that it’s easy to get started on a weight loss plan, whether it involves diet or exercise or both, but it’s devilishly hard to stick to it. You start cheating more than your plans allows for. You make excuses to skip the gym. And the next thing you know, you’ve actually gained weight instead of losing it.

But a recent study published in the journal Obesity indicates that one effective way to make sure you keep on keeping on, as they say, is to get a coach—either a professional one or a friend who's also trying to lose weight will do. While this isn’t the study to examine the benefits of engaging in a fitness program with a buddy, it certainly helps underscore the effectiveness of this approach.

The study, according to an article in’s Healthland section, was conducted out of the Weight Control and Diabetes Research Center at Rhode Island’s Miriam Hospital. It involved 44 participants assigned to health coaches who were either behavioral specialists or other study participants. At first, they met with their coaches on a weekly basis, but over the 24-week period, they started meeting less and less frequently in person, although they maintained weekly contact with their coaches through e-mails.

By the end of the study, which the researchers caution are preliminary, indicate that regardless of whether they had a specialist or a peer as a coach, the participants were able to cut their body weight by 9 percent after around six months of coaching.

But what makes coaching so effective? One factor is accountability—after all, if you’re the only one who knows you’re cheating, it’s much easier to do, but if you know someone is watching, you’re more likely to exert the proper effort. If you know someone is going to look over your food journal, for example, you may be more inclined to take better records. Another factor is knowledge. Obviously, someone like a behavioral specialist will be able to help you pinpoint some of those bad habits you may not even realize you’re guilty of. But a peer—one who is also trying to lose weight—will probably be aware of at least some effective slim-down tactics as well.

So why not get started on your weight loss plan? And while you’re at it, recruit a coach from among your friends if you’d rather not fork over the dough for a professional.

(Photo by William Ward via Flickr Creative Commons)

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