The Numbers Game: Why Losing Weight Is Easier in Groups

I teach group fitness classes and I love how well they work for people. Science calls it “social comparison theory.” Find out why a group mentality is a good thing when it comes to fitness.

I teach group fitness classes at a large gym in West Los Angeles. I’ve always loved the group vibe. It really adds to the pleasure and intensity of my workouts. (Hmm, it sounds like I’m doing an ad for a sex toy, doesn’t it?) Every once in a while a “Woo hoo!” will escape someone’s lips or I’ll hear a collective groan when I announce we’re going to do a plank for three minutes. I love it!

But I also understand the need to escape sometimes and either get away outdoors or go “inside yourself” with something meditative like yoga. (Sorry for all this innuendo. I’m currently reading Fifty Shades.) When it comes to weight loss, however, I think enlisting group support is crucial to success whether it’s joining a class, finding a workout buddy, or posting challenges and results on Facebook.

I’m in the process of applying for a PhD in Positive Developmental Psychology so I’ve been reading up on practical applications that facilitate human flourishing. One thing I found fascinating was the idea that social support has been proven to contribute to physical health. (For more info, see Applied Positive Psychology: Improving Everyday Life, Health, Schools, Work, and Society.) Friends and family can provide ongoing encouragement and confidence building, particularly when motivation has waned. They can also help with feedback and advice regarding one’s progress toward fitness goals.

Plus, there is another reason that group fitness is an ideal environment for weight loss: social comparison theory. Essentially, it means that some people will do better and some people will do worse in a group setting. HOWEVER, both variations can be motivating.

Comparing yourself to others in a weight loss group, you can either think, “Hey, if she can do it, then so can I” or “I’m so awesome because I did better than her!” Seeing superior performers in your group make greater results seem achievable and seeing inferior performers makes you proud of even minor progress. It’s a win/win.

Coming back from summer vacation with a few extra pounds a few weeks ago, I thought it was definitely time to reel it in. And knowing that social support is helpful, I started an eight-week weight loss challenge including all of my classes. I figured I probably wasn’t the only one struggling with post-BBQ belly.

group exercise, group fitness, exercise class, zen gray, fitness classI brought in my Eatsmart Precision Plus electronic scale and my Omron Body Fat Monitor that I got for thirty dollars on Amazon and offered to test people’s body fat on a weekly basis. (I also acknowledge that there can be a four percent margin of error with this type of electrical impedance device, but it’s faster, easier, and cheaper than throwing everyone in a dunk tank.) I also called around and got some generous sponsors to donate prizes for our top two winners (eliminating myself from being able to win the goodies, of course.) Z.E.N. Foods is donating five full days of meal delivery to one winner and California Chef Services is donating two hundred dollars of food delivery for the other winner. Both are delicious, calorie-controlled food delivery services ideal for anyone trying to lose extra weight or maintain their hard-won svelte figure. Not bad, right?

Each week, I also post new weight loss tips on the wall such as “eat within thirty minutes of waking” or “use cold therapy to speed body fat burn and increase lean muscle.” A little bit of advice is posted and more likely absorbed without being too overwhelming.

We’re now on week four and almost three dozen people are participating in this challenge. What’s wonderful is that people are really gaining momentum and enthusiasm for their efforts when taking measurements every week. Plus, everyone is more social and making new friends because I added this new element to my classes. (I’m personally down six pounds and two percent of body fat. Go me!)

So if you’re currently trying to lose a couple “happy” pounds, embrace your friends, family and group classes to help you along.

Photos courtesy of Shutterstock.

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