Being reminded how hard it is to lose weight can help boost self-control, research finds.
After being reminded of the difficulties they face, people in the study strengthened their resolve.
The technique works through reverse psychology: being told something is hard makes people all the more determined to overcome the difficulty.
People in the study were reminded how weak their self-control is and how tempting foods are and that having the wrong genes was against them.
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 included 262 obese and overweight people who were put into one of two groups.
The first involved cognitive therapy and the second required people to make changes to their home food environment (HFE).
The results showed that both groups lost the same amount of weight.
Some people in the home food environment group, though, were reminded how hard it is to lose weight.
Ironically, these people ended up losing the most weight.
Professor Lowe explained:
“…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.”
Professor Lowe thinks that weight loss groups need to consider the type of support they provide:
“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).