Does Your Mind Stop You From Losing Weight?
It’s interesting to note; the single most important factor to not just getting the weight off, but keeping it off, is between our ears. That is, how people approach the issue, psychologically speaking, is an essential component of success. And yet, 8 zillion weight loss books and programs out there, and at best, this aspect of weight loss gets lip service only.
Many diet programs out there don’t address the psychological aspect of why people fail to be successful with long-term weight loss. However, quite a few studies exist that have looked at just that. In many respects, the psychological aspect is the most important for long-term weight loss, and probably the most underappreciated component.
Studies that compare the psychological characteristics of people who have successfully kept the weight off to people who have regained the weight, see clear differences between these two groups. For example, one study that looked at 28 obese women who had lost weight but regained the weight that they had lost, compared to 28 formerly obese women who had lost weight and maintained their weight for at least one year and 20 women with a stable weight in the healthy range, found the women who regained the weight:
• Had a tendency to evaluate self-worth in terms of weight and shape
• Had a lack of vigilance with regard to weight control
• Had a dichotomous (black-and-white) thinking style
• Had the tendency to use eating to regulate mood.
The researchers concluded:
“The results suggest that psychological factors may provide some explanation as to why many people with obesity regain weight following successful weight loss.”
This particular study was done on women, so it reflects some of the specific psychological issues women have – but make no mistake here – men also have their own psychological issues that can sabotage their long term weight loss efforts. (6)
Additional studies on men and women find psychological characteristics such as “having unrealistic weight goals, poor coping or problem-solving skills and low self-efficacy” often predict failure with long term weight loss. (7) On the other hand, psychological traits common to people who experienced successful long term weight loss include “…an internal motivation to lose weight, social support, better coping strategies and ability to handle life stress, self-efficacy, autonomy, assuming responsibility in life, and overall more psychological strength and stability.” (8)
The main point of this section is to illustrate that psychology plays a major role in determining if people are successful with long-term weight loss. If it’s not addressed as part of the overall plan, it can be the factor that makes or breaks your success. This, however, is not an area most nutrition programs can adequately tackle and should not be expected to. However, the better programs do generally attempt to help with motivation, goal setting, and support. Lack of support is one important issue I identified early, having personally trained so many people, and getting feedback from my articles, etc. That’s why my weight loss program comes with a private forum where people can get support, advice, and get answers to their questions.
If you see yourself in the above lists from the groups that failed to maintain their weight long term, then know you will need to address those issues via counseling, support groups, etc. Don’t expect any weight loss program to cover this topic adequately but do look for programs that attempt to offer support, goal setting, and resources that will keep you on track.
Note: the above is a modified section from a longer article called “The Big Picture of Permanent Weight Loss.” More info on the topic of successful long term weight loss, the citations from the studies mentioned above, etc can be found in that article if interested.