The Psychology of Weight Loss
You see the razor-thin models gracing the covers of magazines…you watch actors and actresses on the big screen who seem to never gain a pound. And you wonder: How do I differ from them? You may be surprised to learn that a number of famous people at one time had difficulty maintaining a healthy weight. But they were able to conquer their problem, thanks to a new-and-improved, healthy view of eating.
You may not realize it, but there is a certain psychology at work in successful weight loss. It is no surprise, then, that the magazine Psychology Today has explored the issue in-depth. In October of 2004, the magazine posted an article on its website detailing the experiences of Diane Berry, a nurse practitioner who studied women who had shed at least 15 pounds and had maintained their weight loss for an average of seven years.
The women shared some important things in common. For instance, they all achieved their weight loss through either Weight Watchers or TOPS, which meant that they had a firm support network as they tried to maintain their weight. The group meetings were highly important, because they learned to recognize that they were certainly not alone in their struggles with weight. The women were also quite unusual because up to 90 percent of individuals who have lost weight end up putting it back on within five years.
Another common trait of these women is that they appeared to undergo a profound mood shift as they made the transition from fat to thin. From all indications, they appeared to be depressed when they were heavy but, as they attempted to lose weight, their mood brightened.
For these women, healthy eating became a habit—a habit they refused to break. They themselves recognized the tremendous role that psychology plays in weight loss. They refused to give in to negative feelings of frustration and denial and chose a positive path instead. The women also made it a point to weigh themselves regularly so that they could chart their progress.
And they recognized that maintaining weight loss would be a lifetime struggle. They knew that they could not attempt a weight loss program then put it back on the shelf. They had to learn new eating patterns that they could continue week in and week out. In some cases, they likened their struggle to that of an alcoholic. In other words, they recognized the gravity of their problem and took steps to correct the situation.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of these women’s experiences was the fact that their weight loss actually came in spurts. At times, they regained their weight, but they did not let that deter them from their final goal. They simply viewed their setbacks as challenges that they needed to overcome. This may be the key psychological trait that separates successful dieters from unsuccessful ones—perseverance. In essence, these women were able to change their personalities in a positive way in order to achieve their long-term weight loss goals.
Another interesting aspect of this study was that it showed that the women who had undergone weight loss transformation were genuinely happy. This shows the tremendous psychological impact that weight loss can have on an individual. Once an individual is free from the burden of extra weight, he or she is better able to meet the challenges of life head-on. The dieter benefits from positive reinforcement, as relatives, friends, and co-workers congratulate him or her for the weight loss. In this way, losing weight can be quite a life-affirming experience and can lead to a more optimistic outlook on life.
It must be noted here that the psychology of weight loss is a complicated matter. There is no single ingredient that can turn a fat person into a thin one. However, recognizing that there is a psychological component to successful weight loss may, in fact, be half the battle. Once an individual recognizes that he or she is engaged in a psychological fight, he or she is better able to do battle. By retraining oneself to seek healthy approaches to diet, one can, in effect, mold oneself into a new individual—one that no longer lives to eat, but simply eats to live.