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Seven Psychological Barriers to Maintaining Healthy Weight Loss

by Cindy Gray

While many people have the self-discipline to lose weight, keeping it off is much harder.  In fact, only 20 percent of people who lose at least 10% of their body weight experience success at keeping the weight off for a year or longer, according to research.  What makes some people more successful than others?  One review study looked at research conducted from 2003 to 2009 and found seven psychological barriers to maintaining healthy weight loss.

Achieving healthy weight loss is not just about pounds.  It's about the ability to keep weight off over time.

1.  Black and White Thinking

Various studies show that black and white thinking is one of the biggest barriers to weight loss and maintenance.  Viewing progress in all-or-nothing terms makes the smallest setback seem like a huge personal failure.  Looking at setbacks as temporary bumps in the road helps people get back on track toward maintaining healthy weight loss over the long term. 

2.  Emotional Eating

While food is meant to satisfy hunger, many people eat to relieve emotional distress.  Unfortunately, it often makes people feel worse by adding guilt to the list of unwanted emotions.  Not surprisingly, the review study identified emotional eating as a strong predictor for regaining lost weight.  Learning to recognize triggers for emotional eating helps people correct this self-defeating habit. 

3.  Lack of Dietary Restraint

The review study showed that higher levels of disinhibition led to uncontrolled eating and weight gain, and long-term maintenance was linked to better self-control.  Too much self- control however, may not be a good thing.  According to the Weight Watchers Research Department, charting and weighing each morsel consumed can lead to abnormal eating patterns.  They recommend flexible restraint for lasting weight loss, which emphasizes a moderate level of control when eating. 

Related:  Effects of Overeating on Brain Health

4.  Perceived Costs Outweighing Benefits

Weight loss offers individuals a host of benefits that include better health, improved appearance, and more self-esteem.  The costs of weight loss include portion control, counting calories, and regular exercise.  The review study found that people who are successful at maintaining healthy weight loss over time continue to believe that the benefits outweigh the costs.

5.  Growing Depression

While prior research has shown a link between depression and obesity, this study did not find a relationship between baseline depression and maintaining weight loss.  However, rising levels of depression did predict weight regain.

6.  Poor Body Image

People who feel good about themselves are more successful in many ways than people with a poor self-image.  The review study confirmed that subjects who were more satisfied with their appearance and body image were more likely to maintain weight loss over time.

7.  Dissatisfaction with the Amount of Initial Weight Lost

According to the researchers, satisfaction with the initial amount of weight lost also plays a role in keeping it off.  People who were satisfied with the amount of weight they lost (whether they met their initial goal or not) were more likely to keep it off over time.

Achieving healthy weight loss is not just about losing pounds.  It's about whether people can keep weight off over time.  Getting professional help for emotional issues and becoming more aware of self-defeating behaviors may help people be more effective at maintaining weight loss.  Additional factors associated with lasting weight loss include a consistent eating pattern, daily exercise, and regular monitoring of weight.

 

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