DIY: Tips on Starting a Support Group

Finding and actively participating in weight loss support groups can make a bariatric patient’s post-op life much more rewarding and successful. Being active in forums, browsing web sites and following your surgeon’s guidelines get you off on the right foot. A support group offers peer support and camaraderie. People attending meetings relax because they know that they aren’t alone in their journey.

A complaint I see in bariatric discussion forums is that people do not have access to a convenient support group. They can’t find one that meets their needs or has convenient hours and meeting locations. If this is you, I urge you to start one. I know it may seem daunting and unachievable. The reality is that it’s easier than you think.

In early 2010 I joined with two other bariatric patients in forming a cycling club for bariatric patients. As far as I can tell, we are a unique group. There are many variations of weight loss surgery support groups but few that focus on an activity such as bicycling. The Spin-offs is very successful as we entered our second year in early April. Here are some quick tips to help you start your own group.

Tip #1: Determine your focus

What will your focus be? It starts with a list. Take some time to write down what you want in terms of support. Here are some thought starters to get you going. Who will you be targeting as members? Where do you want to meet? What topics do you want to discuss?

You need to know where to begin before you can embark on a journey. Developing a support group is a journey. In my bariatric cycling group, I knew the group would target members of my existing weight loss surgery support group who were interested in being more active. Our area is fortunate to have many miles of bike trails where we would meet. The group’s focus would be to get people more active through cycling.

Tip #2: Develop a core group.

Being a lone wolf in starting a support group is not for everyone. Look within an existing support group or on-line community for local folks who share your interest. Float an exploratory message on a bariatric forum. Contact your surgeon for possible patients who are a good fit as a member of the core group. This group will be your sounding board and means to expand on your focus through group dynamics and thought.

I had met a fellow cyclist at my bariatric support group and began cycling with her. She knew another bariatric patient who cycled. They were happy to join me in planning our cycling group. We met and discussed ideas for bike rides, publicity, and a group mission. From this firsthand experience, I can tell you that a core group makes the support group process easier and attainable.

Tip #3: Make it easy.

You have a core group working. You need be careful not to overwhelm yourself or your team. Running a support group shouldn’t monopolize any single person’s schedule. Be kind to the core group by spreading responsibility across your team. For your support group, make sure it’s easy for members to join and attend meetings.

The core team for my cycling group found a perfect resource in our planning. is a social networking website that makes a community easy to start and manage. It was a fit for us. We could add events easily. Members could join and interact with other members. It handles meeting logistics including reminding members of upcoming rides and handled their responses.

Tip #4: Be consistent and constantly evolve.

You held your first meeting and it was a success. You need to keep your momentum moving. Thank your members for attending. Send out a simple survey. Think back on the meeting discussions. What common theme were people interested in discussing. It is most likely a good candidate for your next meeting. It’s also important to grow as a group. Keep evolving the meeting to meet your members’ needs.

For the Spin-offs, we watch the rides that are our members’ favorites. We repeat the ride, often with an interesting change to keep it fresh. I always ask members personally if they enjoyed the ride and ask for any suggestions. Our cycling group at started with 3 members in February 2010 is now approaching 100 members with over 50 bike rides behind us.

I hope these four tips help you get your personal support group going. They are meant to get the ideas in your mind moving. I don’t believe in reinventing the wheel. Look for successful group and pattern your group after them. You may get great ideas for programs from one group while another group offers good advice on planning and running a meeting. Don’t be afraid to add your personal touch.

Tom Bilcze

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  1. Sheri Day August 10, 2012 at 8:28 am

    Hi Tom, we don’t have a support group in So IN where I live. I would appreciate any help I could get. The PA at my MD’s office in Cincinnati is interested in seeing a program open up here. Sheri Day

    1. Tom Bilcze August 14, 2012 at 8:31 am


      A local support group is a good thing. It sounds like you have support of a bariatric center. That is good since they can forward any emails and invites you need sent. In my area, we have a few different types of groups.

      We have a hospital supported group where each month we have a meeting with a program. Some examples of programs are: eating healthy, eat this and not that, being active, small group discussions, visit from the local park system to talk about trails, panel discussion with nutritionist, counselor, and surgeon.

      We have another hospital run group that is basically a monthly group discussion. The counselor may throw out a topic to get the talk going but participants chose the direction.

      Finally, we have a patient run group that uses It is Moving Forward if you want to look it up. It is geared around social activities where people informally talk and get to know each other. We do hikes, dinners out, some breakfasts, special events, etc. This month we are visiting a wintery.

      I hope this gives you some ideas. Get a group of patients and someone from your bariatric center together for a meeting. Brainstorm some ideas and come up with an initial meeting. It will take a life of its own from there.



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