When people are reminded how challenging weight loss really is, they experience greater self-control, new research finds.
People in the study told that their self-control is weak, and the temptations too strong, fought back in their minds against the suggestion.
It’s reverse psychology.
Being reminded of the obstacles — such as tempting foods and the wrong genes — encourages the mind to strengthen its resolve.
Professor Michael Lowe, the study’s first author, explained:
“We said, ‘It’s impressive and encouraging that you are taking this step to improve your weight and health, but we need to help you understand the daunting challenges you’re facing.’
The reason we did this was not to discourage them, but to give them a more realistic sense of how crucial it is for them to make lasting changes in their parts of the food environment that they could control.”
The study compared two different types of weight loss programme in 262 overweight and obese people.
One focused on changing the home food environment (HFE) and the other on cognitive therapy.
The results revealed that both groups lost similar amounts of weight.
However, part of the home food environment intervention involved reminding people how hard it is to lose weight.
They were also reminded how weak their self-control was — and that made their self-control stronger.
This is reverse psychology, said Professor Lowe:
“…by questioning the usefulness of building self-control skills, the HFE treatment may have bolstered the very capacity it was meant to downplay — stronger self-control with regard to food.”
Weight loss is hard and that needs to be acknowledged, said Professor Lowe:
“Rather than acting as cheerleaders giving facile encouragement, leaders of weight loss groups might serve their clients better by providing a more sobering description of the challenges participants face.”
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2003) and several ebooks:
- Accept Yourself: How to feel a profound sense of warmth and self-compassion
- The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic
- Spark: 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything
- Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do
The study was published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (Lowe et al., 2018).