Lifetalk with Roberta Russell: Peer Therapy for Overweight and Obesity — Learning From Each Other

By Roberta Russell

Some people lose their appetites when feeling rejected, but mine increases, especially for sweets and comfort foods. Even though I have been at a normal weight for the past 21 yeaars, that psychological and physiological connection remains.

Recently, in preparation for a formative fall event on long-term weight loss at Columbia TC, I was delighted to discover solid evidence for the powerful contribution of peer influence.

At Nagoya University in Japan (Journal of Medical Internet Research, 2013:15(7):e136) an experiment revealed an increase in pounds lost when participants shared their weight loss journeys with peers online.

A web-based self-disclosure system was developed with the guidance of a group of dietitians who conveyed their messages to select overweight participants using photographs of meals. Weight-losers were randomly assigned to either an emailed group who only received guidance from the dietitians, or to a group who had both the guidance and forced disclosure of their weight loss journeys. This more transparent group could see how their peers were doing by their reports. Weight loss was significantly greater in the group that was aware of the performances of their peers.

I am not surprised. The free calorie and exercise logging group that I initiated 21 years ago, in New York City and the Adirondacks, is still operative, now online (see Permanent Weight Loss).

We are clearly affected by each other’s accounts of our daily calories consumed and expended through exercise. Treatment for life, without cost, is working for us.

You may be surprised to know how easy it is for the lucky ones who have the combination of genes that make feeling satisfied after eating just the calories they burn more likely. Nevertheless, these individuals are still not immune from the consequences of overeating and under-exercising.

Dr. Joseph Proietto, professor emeritus at the University of Melbourne and chair of the Clinical Care Committee on World Obesity, is an endocrinologist specializing in diabetes and obesity. As one of the world’s top experts on obesity, he will be participating in a life-size screen broadcast from Melbourne, Australia. He is very clear about the physiologically-based propensity to regain weight once you have lost it, or to have gained excess weight in the first place.

For me it takes planning and support to sustain the weight I desire. An attendant online cohort of companions who are in my court, sharing the struggle to get to or stay at an ideal weight and then avoid the almost inevitable weight re-gain once they’ve reached their goals, has proven to be very helpful during the past 21 years.

Now I would like to help connect more people (even internationally, at least by email) who are willing to do what it takes to keep excess weight off.

Obesity remains one of the most common public health problems in the world. Email is not only available for one-on-one communication, but also for uninterrupted group support for weight loss and maintenance.

Now that I have the high-tech opportunities that Columbia TC makes available, I intend to share the findings of some of the professors and researchers who have dedicated their careers to research on weight loss. Using Zoom and in-person meeting in the service of extending our collective weight loss and maintenance journey, I would welcome the participation of other adventurers, wherever you are, as long as you are prepared to take on the commitment of doing what it takes and staying “in treatment” with a buddy for life (without financial costs). More about what successful long-term weight losers do is free to download from

Since the recidivism rate for weight loss affects almost everyone, treatment for life is an ideal solution. If you are one of the 74 percent of people who are overweight, why not stem the problem of weight re-gain with the support of fellow travelers?

See you lighter soon?

Roberta Russell is the author of R.D. Laing & Me: Lessons in Love with R.D. Laing (Hillgarth Press, 1992), Report on Effective Psychotherapy: Legislative Testimony (Hillgarth Press, 1981, 1984, 1994), and Report on Permanent Weight Loss (Columbia Academic Commons, 2017).

BEFORE AND AFTER. Photos courtesy of Roberta Russell.

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