Very few people really want to be fat. I know I didn’t want to be, even though I was about 60 pounds overweight for years. For me, losing weight became a “must” when I stepped onto my bathroom scale and it broke. Yep, kaput. But even then I knew I couldn’t just set out on my own and lose all the weight I wanted to. I needed help.
Which brings me to this: Most of us need help to improve our lifestyle habits. By “help” I mean support. Friends. Family. People around us who will make exercise and healthy eating fun, and who will be there for us on the days when it really isn’t fun. And there will be those days.
How to Build Support
I found that support in my community, but what really surprised me was how much I helped others find that support by starting a community-wide weight-loss program.
In 2004, a few of us in our small northern California community pioneered the concept of community weight-loss programs by creating the Nevada County Meltdown, an eight-week program during which more than 1,000 of our neighbors and friends lost nearly four tons of surplus weight. The ideas, instructions, and sample forms we used are captured in The Fat to Fit Meltdown Manual, so that others can create programs in their own communities. The program is based on three key FIT principles:
F: Focus on fun. Creating the event needs to be as much fun for organizers as it is for participants. Contributing to others will help you stay in touch with your vision, and the experience will lift the spirits of participants.
I: Innovate and improvise. Every community and every individual is unique: one size will not fit all. To achieve maximum impact, your program must be relevant, timely, and tailored to your community, and the content must be responsive to the particular needs of the individuals.
T: Team up. Everyone needs to participate: medical experts, the media, fitness clubs, food marks, hospital personnel, employers, government officials, educators, religious leaders, employees, and family members. The goal is promoting community-wide fitness for everyone, independent of age, size, and time of life.
These three principles will help you create a low-cost, fun-filled, grass-roots event.
Strive for ‘Great’ but Embrace ‘Good Enough’
Be assured that your efforts don't have to be perfect. Instead, adopt an open-minded attitude—one that encourages experimentation. You can even view the project as a theatrical production and include the elements of drama, action, and surprise. The program can also be seen through the lens of a sporting event by creating compitive teams. You can add additional meaning by linking weight loss to a donation to a worthwhile local charity.
Organizing a group intervention to promote healthier lifestyles and appropriate weight also involves education and skill building. Leaders who step forward to create events quickly discover others who are willing and eager to contribute their talents and expertise toward a common goal—helping members of the community and each other lead healthier lives.
In the past few years, more than 300 community weight-loss events have occurred in communities across the United States. Marge Delozier, for example, organized a spring 2010 community weight-loss program in Lewiston, Pennsylvania. Marge says, “We are all so excited. It has been a great exercise in pulling talents from the whole community. If anyone is thinking about creating an event, just do it!”
The Future and You
We are at a crossroad. We can view obesity as an overwhelmingly intractable program and throw in the towel. Or like Marge Delozier, we can take concre, practical actions to help our neighbors and friends adopt healthier lifestyles and lose those surplus pounds. When you step forward in this way, I can assure you that, just as our Nevada County Meltdown did, your actions will reverberate beyond your community's borders and touch people’s lives in ways you will never know.
Carole Carson, author of From Fat to Fit: Turn Yourself into a Weapon of Mass Reduction, serves as the coach for the AARP Fat to Fit online community.