I mentioned last week that I had a friend who was about to become a Weight Watchers leader. She’d asked at the time for my advice (in full disclosure, this is the same friend who said something insensitive that triggered the whole “outing myself as a binge eater” thing) because she wanted to avoid future missteps. At the time, my oh-so-complicated advice was “Well, don’t do that again” but since that time I’ve thought a lot about the advice I’d actually give someone who was starting out. I’ve certainly worked with a lot of WW leaders, one I adored, several who were “okay” and one less-than-stellar, to put it kindly. By watching them and thanks to your advice last week (thanks!), I think have a better list of advice to send her.
- Focus as much (or more) on more general tips for weight loss and lifestyle changes as you do the particulars of the Weight Watchers program itself. As Jennifer at Running on Lentils pointed out last week, the least effective leaders are the ones who just read from the program guide. Yes, you need someone who can guide you through the points system but more importantly for long term success, you need someone who can talk to you about things beyond the Weight Watchers program. I’m pleased to hear that the WW program itself has actually shifted to cover more of these issues, like dealing with emotional eating.
- Engage the whole group without letting any one party control the conversation. My favorite leader was great about this. She always had control of the room and reached out to involve everyone. She always made it a point to know what was going on in her member’s lives and pulled us in so that everyone got to contribute. Amanda mentioned this as a key in her training as a group therapist and it would definitely help in a WW meeting room. I’ve had some who completely lost control of the conversation in the room and some who only engaged their favorites to the exclusion of others. It takes a lot of skill to balance the room.
- Be genuine about your experience, both with weight loss and maintenance. That means being honest about when you slip and also being honest what your weight loss experience has been. I still remember a WW leader who’d lost 100 pounds talking to us about going to the movies alone so no one would see what she did and then getting a large popcorn with a bag of M&M’s dumped in and thought “SHE understands where I’ve been.” On the other hand, don’t presume you know what it’s like to lose 100 pounds (or need to lose 100 pounds) if you only had 5 to lose. Those are different things. People need both perspectives, absolutely, but if you pretend (pretend is the wrong word, I know, because people can do this with good intentions) to know what is like to have lived a story you didn’t, you lose authority by losing sincerity. Does that make sense? Instead, draw out those stories in your group that show the diversity of the weight loss experience is like and use those to supplement your own.
- Lay the groundwork for maintenance throughout the weight loss process. Engaging your maintainers is a great way to do this, which has the bonus of getting them involved as well! I think that was hugely helpful for me, in that my first leader talked about the big picture of lifelong sustainable habits from the very beginning.
- Make as big a deal out of NSVs as you do the weight loss successes. A big lesson to learn in weight loss is that success is not going to be a straight line. You can do everything “right” and still not see the scale cooperate in the way you’d like. However, you still did lots of good work that deserves celebrating! Just as importantly, when you get to maintenance and your success isn’t measured on the scale anymore, having established the habit of celebrating NSVs helps to keep you on track.
I think these ideas would apply to any weight loss group, not just Weight Watchers, and that’s maybe part of the point. Giving people practical skills beyond the app or tools of your particular weight loss program will help them learn how to sustain success in the long term. Giving everyone a place they feel safe and valued is also key in providing the kind of support an undertaking this big needs.
What advice would you give someone starting as a weight loss group leader?