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It’s More Than Willpower: The Psychology of Successful Weight Loss

October 13th, 2008

Sucessful weight loss requires, above all, the right mindset.

Successful weight loss requires, above all, the right mindset.

So many factors can make or break a weight loss program.  When programs succeed, credit is usually given to factors like diet, willpower, supplements, and proper exercise.  When programs fail, that’s also where the blame usually falls. Those factors are important, but what’s perhaps more important is something that doesn’t get discussed as often; the psychology of successful weight loss.  And there’s much more to that than simply willpower.

Have you ever tried to lose weight unsuccessfully?

What went wrong? Was it a matter of diet, exercise, supplements, willpower or something else? is certainly not a research organization, but we do have good relationships with our customers. And with weight loss and weight-loss supplements being areas of such major interest to our customers, we’ve made some observations about what factors seem to determine the success of a weight-loss programs.  Our impressions square with what research is continuing to show about the secret to weight-loss success; it’s a mental game.

Maybe it has to do with the fact that we live in a society bombarded with drug commercials and instant-gratification schemes of every type, but in any case it comes as no surprise that when it comes to successfully losing weight, people often begin the process with unrealistic expectations:

They expect a diet pill to perform miracles.

They settle on an arbitrary number of pounds to lose, almost always subconsciously invoking the Rule of Fives, an inexplicable but persistent tendency to set weight loss goals in 5 lb. increments; “I need to lose (5-10-15-20) lbs!“.

They give themselves an arbitrary period of time in which to lose that arbitrary amount of weight i.e., “I want to lose 15 pounds by …..the end of January!”

They don’t take the time to proactively research diet, exercise and supplements, instead relying on whatever sound-bites, anecdotes and uninformed advice they stumble across at the water cooler, in the waiting room or on a TV talk show.

They make excuses for counterproductive behavior instead of resolving to correct it. This undermines the very state-of-mind they should be cultivating.  The results they expect don’t  materialize in the time frame they expected.  These cycles repeat until the whole program is simply a joyless, endless and fruitless endeavor.

Then you talk to people who’ve successfully lost weight and kept it off.

Talk to enough people on both sides of the fence and you can’t help but start to notice big differences.  Both groups mention their diet, supplements and exercise habits – that’s not where the differences lay. Instead, the most profound differences are revealed in the very way in which people talk about their weight loss efforts. They are mainly mental and psychological differences.  It’s not so much that this group exercised more or dieted more strictly, it’s deeper than that. The very mindset of the successful dieter is markedly different from that of the try-and-try again dieter. Let’s examine this mindset and see how and why it produces better and more-lasting results that halfhearted fad or crash diet approaches.

The Right Mindset frames the weight-loss program as set of positive and permanent lifestyle changes that eventually lead to weight loss, better health, mood, love life and other positive changes.  As these “new” lifestyle changes become familiar habits, they no longer feel like changes or sacrifices.  Because they’ve been permanently implemented, the weight comes off and stays off.

The Wrong Mindset doesn’t see the process as one of positive lifestyle changes, but rather focuses on the results and and on the time factor; I wanted to lose X lbs by X date. What can I blame for that not happening?

The Right Mindset commits to these changes and makes them permanent, understanding that by doing so, excess weight and body fat can only decrease. That may happen slower than we’d like but it can’t fail to happen. But whether its taking 6 weeks or 6 months, the Right Mindset doesn’t care. It’s committed to making these changes permanent, committed to making them the new norm.

The Wrong Mindset doesn’t commit. It finds rationales for not exercising, for not making the extra effort to eat right, for not doing any research. The Wrong Mindset plays at losing weight, but falls short of committing to the process.

The Right Mindset doesn’t pay much attention to numbers.  Their weight-loss success rarely comes as a result of “chasing numbers around” such as pounds lost, pounds gained, calories, fat grams, how many weeks, etc. Instead, the Right Mindset focuses on establishing and making permanent as many healthy new eating, supplement and exercise habits as possible, then forgets numbers. Just keep doing all the right things – the weight and fat come off eventually – does it really matter if it happens at this rate or at that rate?

The Wrong Mindset gets overly concerned with numbers or focuses on the wrong numbers. These are the folks who weight themselves, perhaps compulsively, on a bathroom scale and  – quite naively – let that number validate or repudiate their success.  They’ll get hung up on calories while ignoring nutritional content of food. They’ll focus on how long they exercised but not how hard.

There really isn’t any secret to losing weight and keeping it off, and indeed, hundreds of conversations with customers about weight-loss have left us unable to draw any other conclusion than this one; with very few exceptions, most people know exactly what they need to do to lose weight. They know they have to clean up their diet and exercise, and what they need to do achieve that.   What makes some successful and others unsuccessful isn’t an information  gap at all. It’s an attitude gap. Anyone can lose as much weight as they want to but remember that it’s a mental game more than anything else. Be sure to start at the beginning by cultivating the Right Mindset.

4 Responses to “It’s More Than Willpower: The Psychology of Successful Weight Loss”

  1. October 20, 2008 at 9:24 pm, Joyntheir said:

    Preach on! Amen and Amen
    Mindset and its partner self-image will either make you or break you in any weight loss/management. You have to believe that you are ‘worthy’ of being healthy and slimmer as well as believing in yourself. If you don’t have the mindset that you can actually lose the weight, you are left at the starting gate. And the mindset to lose for the sake of others does not work nearly as well as losing for yourself and your health.

  2. November 08, 2008 at 9:29 am, Jim Cabeceiras said:

    Good points on the mindset. Take it a step further and offer dieters a roadmap to success. Explain why we resist positive change. Give us methods to treat ourselves as ‘flawed’ and give in to temptation or cravings in a selective way – yet, still be successful with permanent weight loss. Dieters fail because they view dieting as temporary – with a start and an end. The result is failure. Everyone has a ‘fingerprint’ mental profile, with entirely different sets of emotional and impulse control issues, but there are solutions that work on everyone. Substitution Therapy (how to deal with the emotional stess and distract yourself from an emotional void), meditation techniques (dieting will always be 99% psychological), how to ‘visualize’ your outcome (critical for success in anything you do). Conscious stress has to evolve into an almost subconcious behavior. The healthy model of a successful dieter is based on this evolution. Bottom line, it can take up to two years or more to ‘kill off’ poor habits. It’s a true mourning process, like the death of a loved one, because you have to kill off some of your past attitudes. Taking yourself off sugar, limitng starches, limitng fat – all take time to evolve into a daily habit instead of a daily ‘white knuckle, will power’ effort that seems overwhelming. You are dead on about successful dieters. They don’t micro-manage. They are ‘big picture’ people. They visualize themselves, even in old age, as lean and active. I can talk to someone for only a few minutes and determine whether they are emtionally ready to start a diet. Most are not. The Diet Industry only adds to the problem. They want to sell product – they could care less about what it really takes to change for 50 years instead of 50 days.

    Interested in more? Check our my book, ‘The Untold Secrets of Permanent Weight Loss’.

    Jim Cabeceiras

  3. November 28, 2009 at 3:45 pm, Jenny said:

    You wouldn’t believe it but I have wasted all day digging for some information about this. I wish I knew of this site earlier, it was a thought provoking read and has helped me out to no end. Kind regards [link truncated]

  4. August 01, 2010 at 10:59 am, Who Else Is Feeling Psychologically Overfaced With The Prospect Of Losing Weight? | said:

    [...] the right frame of mind is the most crucial factor in helping people realise their weight loss [...]

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