Poll: Does the buddy system really work?

One of my friends is deep in a life makeover. Six months ago, she decided to sit down weekly on a therapist's couch. Since then, she's been meditating and journaling up a storm in the name of personal wellness. So none of us were surprised when she showed up at a party over the weekend after seeing a nutritionist, wondering aloud if this was a health helper worth the hefty expense. "You don't need a health coach," another friend suggested, "you need an accountability partner." But is the buddy system really as helpful as an expert?

A study at Stanford University showed that even small amounts of social support, like a quick phone call or an email from a friend, can help produce lasting change in our health. But would a friend offer the same "I don't want to disappoint her," pressure as someone who wears a shroud of authoritative anonymity? Think of Gladys at the weekly weigh-in of a diet program. She doesn't know that you're the world's best crocheter or play a mean game of horse. Her entire sense of how good you are hinges on which way that number on the scale travels each week: up or down.

In that sense, maybe a friend offers some pretty vital context for achieving your health goals: your relationship is about much more than whether one of you loses weight or eats three servings of fish each week. The trick, though, would be not using that intimacy to explain away failures: "You know how difficult things are at work right now," we might rationalize, "I just couldn't make it to the gym this week."

It's so easy--and totally appealing--to hand our power over to an expert. We're so far gone, we think, we need to be whipped into a shape by an all-knowing authority figure. But when makeover subjects of Jillian Michaels's show Losing It credit Michaels with their success, she is quick to remind them that they are the ones who did the hard work. But could you achieve the same results without someone like Michaels threatening to kick your ass if you don't run that last lap or pass on the bread basket?

Do you think a friend could offer the same pressure and inspiration as an expert? Do you think monitoring each other like this could muck up your relationship?