What is a successful mindset for weight loss maintenance?

In today’s calorie-rich, ultra-processed, motion-sparing, chronic stress-inducing, and supposedly “toxic” environment, losing weight is hard work. But implementing a healthy, sustainable approach that keeps the weight off is even harder.

Short-term weight loss may be easier than long-term weight maintenance

Most of us can successfully lose weight in the short term. But those who hop from one fad diet to another often experience the metabolic roller coaster known as yo-yo dieting that spikes our hunger hormones, crashes our metabolic rates, and causes a vicious spiral of loss. of weight followed by recovery. Even most medical interventions to help treat obesity produce the typical trajectory of rapid weight loss followed by a weight plateau and then gradual weight regain. In a meta-analysis in 29 long-term weight loss studies, more than half the weight lost was recovered within two years, and within five years, more than 80% of the weight lost was recovered. This means that, based on our best estimates, only one in five overweight people achieve long-term weight loss.

What is special about weight loss maintainers?

Based on National Weight Control Registry studies, a database of over 4,000 people who have maintained at least 10% weight loss for at least a year, we’ve got a look at some proven tactics. These include various energy-reducing behaviors – limiting high-calorie foods and sugary drinks, portion control and consistent eating habits over days, increasing fruit and vegetable consumption – as well as physical activity for at least one hour a day.

It makes sense and is uniform in the scientific literature. Any successful weight loss requires tipping and maintaining the balance toward greater energy expenditure and less energy intake (a negative net energy balance). But how do these people actually maintain these weight loss-promoting behaviors over time, in order to build a lifestyle that doesn’t leave them feeling constantly deprived, lethargic and hungry (hungry + angry)?

The most important determinants of weight loss maintenance are those that cement behavioral changes. Like more recent evidence confirms, the proper psychology for weight loss is essential for regulating the physiology that supports weight loss.

Self-regulation and self-efficacy are the key to long-term success

Only recently have we begun to assess the psychological and cognitive determinants of weight loss maintenance. We all have anecdotal evidence from family, friends and colleagues. But it is difficult to systematically collect, process and analyze the qualitative experiences, strategies and challenges of successful weight loss maintainers.

Data to date confirm the importance of self-regulation, and in particular self-monitoring everyday behaviors that determine energy intake and expenditure, especially eating behaviors. Those with high self-efficacy (belief in your ability to perform certain behaviors) for exercise in particular are more successful in maintaining weight loss. And more recently, researchers have decoded elements of the appropriate mindset that instills high self-efficacy for the larger constellation of important weight management behaviors.

A recent study used machine learning and natural language processing to identify key behavioral themes – motivations, strategies, struggles, and successes – that were consistent in a group of over 6,000 people who had successfully lost and maintained over 9 kilograms (about 20 pounds) of weight for at least a year. Among this large group, they consistently advised perseverance in the face of setbacks and consistency in food tracking and monitoring eating behaviors, as key behavioral strategies. And most of them stayed motivated by thinking about improving their health and appearance despite their low weight.

Many People Miss Successful Weight Loss Studies

Evidence suggests that age, gender, and socioeconomic status are not significant factors in predicting maintenance of weight loss. But most weight loss studies oversubscribe white, educated, middle-income women. Given that the prevalence of obesity and its associated comorbidities is disproportionately higher in the most socially disadvantaged and historically marginalized populations, we need richer and more representative data to paint a complete and inclusive picture of a psychology successful weight loss. We need to better understand the lived experience of all people so that we can determine the most powerful and unique motivations, effective behavioral strategies, and likely challenges and setbacks, especially the environmental determinants that dictate the opportunities and barriers for engage and maintain a healthier life. way of life.

Maintaining weight requires multiple tools, training, and support

What we can say with certainty is that for each of us, maintaining weight loss requires feeling comfortable with discomfort – the discomfort of sometimes being hungry, of exercising instead of eating under stress, honestly deciphering reward-seeking versus true hunger, and resisting the ubiquitous lure of ultra-appetizing foods. This is not an easy task, as it often goes against environmental cues, cultural customs, family upbringing, social influences, and our genetic wiring. In order to help each other achieve health and lose weight in our modern environment, we must learn and practice the psychological tools that help us not just accept, but ultimately embrace, this inevitable discomfort.

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