4 Best Psychological Strategies For Maintaining Weight Loss

The best pieces of advice from people who have successfully maintained their weight loss.

The best pieces of advice from people who have successfully maintained their weight loss.

People who have lost weight and managed to keep it off report that there are four main strategies that help them achieve their goal.

First, people kept themselves motivated to lose weight by thinking about the improvement in their appearance and second the medical benefits they were gaining.

Third, weight-loss maintainers persevered despite setbacks and, fourth, they continued to track food intake and weight.

Professor Suzanne Phelan, the study’s first author, said:

“One of the most impressive findings was how weight-loss maintainers described perseverance in the face of setbacks.

Weight-loss maintainers saw setbacks as part of their successful journey.

Setbacks were not described as failures.

They were seen as a temporary interruption in their path.

Many weight-loss maintainers described getting back on track at the next meal or the next day and measuring overall success based on long-term goals.”

Stay motivated

The conclusions come from a study of over 6,000 members of Weight Watchers who had lost over 50 pounds, on average, and kept it off for over 3 years.

For the study, participants were asked about their motivations and strategies related to weight loss.

Four of the biggest themes were:

  • Appearance concerns: people felt motivated by their sense of shame and disgust after looking at themselves in the mirror, along with embarrassment when trying to buy clothes.
  • Medical health: weight loss maintainers were motivated by the fear of diabetes, heart conditions and other medical problems related to obesity.
  • Perseverance: weight-loss maintainers described their journeys as being like, “a long marathon with individual victories and setbacks,” requiring “great perseverance.”
  • Tracking: weight-loss maintainers said continuing to track weight and food intake was central to success.

Fear of going back

One of the most important ways that people motivated themselves was by looking back.

Here is a quote from one anonymous weight-loss maintainer:

“What motivates me is the thought of gaining all that weight back and the negative impact it would have on me.

I don’t know if I would have the energy to start over.

It is better for me to stay within a couple pounds of goal weight and take it off when necessary.”

And another said:

“Fear of going back to the way I was and throwing all these years down the tubes.

It took me too many years to reach goal and it was a hard road.”

Again, appearance was a big motivator, said many, such as this person:

“How I feel physically and how I look physically.

I love being able to do whatever activities I choose to and my boundless energy.

I feel physically beautiful again and I love buying clothes!

Looking at my before pictures keeps me humble, recalling my “non-scale-victories” keeps me motivated daily.”

The biggest rewards

The biggest rewards people described from weight loss were major improvements in:

  • confidence,
  • pain,
  • mobility,
  • body image,
  • and mental and physical health.

Some negative points were unexpected criticism, clothing costs and sagging skin.

The study was published in the journal Obesity (Phelan et al., 2022).

Author: Dr Jeremy Dean

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.

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