Public Release: 

Weight Watchers: Shed the pounds but lose your friends?

University of Chicago Press Journals

If you're trying to lose weight, Weight Watchers might seem like the ideal place to share advice and get support. While this may be true when you first join, a new study in the Journal of Consumer Research shows you'll bond less with the other members of a support group as you get closer to reaching your goals.

"When consumers start working toward a goal, they often feel uncertain about how to achieve the goal and see others at a similar stage as friends. They pass on helpful tips and cheer each other on. But once the goal is in sight, consumers feel more certain and believe they don't need support from others, so they become distant and keep useful information to themselves," write authors Szu-chi Huang (Stanford University), Susan M. Broniarczyk (University of Texas at Austin), Ying Zhang (Peking University), and Mariam Beruchashvili (California State University, Northridge).

In one study, the researchers analyzed group meetings and interviews with members of Weight Watchers. All of the members in an early stage of weight loss talked about companionship and felt close to and willing to help other members compared with fewer than half in the advanced stage (42%). In contrast, the vast majority in an advanced stage of weight loss felt distant and were reluctant to share information with other members (79%), compared with less than half in the early stage (44%).

Since sharing information benefits consumers, this research can help support groups such as Weight Watchers, Alcoholics Anonymous, or smoking cessation programs find ways to keep people engaged and working toward their goals.

"As consumers move from the early stages of pursuing a goal to a more advanced stage, they change from being friendly to decidedly distant. And the more consumers distance themselves from others with similar goals, the more likely they are to feel disengaged and even give up on their goals entirely," the authors conclude.


Szu-chi Huang, Susan M. Broniarczyk, Ying Zhang, and Mariam Beruchashvili. "From Close to Distant: The Dynamics of Interpersonal Relationships in Shared Goal Pursuit." Journal of Consumer Research: February 2015. For more information, contact Szu-chi Huang ( or visit

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