Much research shows that the majority of people who lose weight gain it all back and then some. But amidst this discouraging news, some individuals not only keep off the pounds for years but even continue their weight loss over time. What’s the key to their weight loss success?
Understanding the weight loss process, uncovering typical pitfalls and correcting them along the way can tip the odds in your favor.
A recent study called the Weight-Loss Patient Journey Study revealed a pattern that helps explain an underlying psychological cycle people typically experience in their efforts to lose weight. “Keep in mind, however, that the study talks about phases of weight loss motivation, not weight loss itself,” says Dr. Brian Quebbemann, bariatric surgeon and founder of the N.E.W. Program in Newport Beach, Calif.
Accountability, whether in a group setting or one-on-one, generally leads to the most weight loss.
— Scott Kahan, M.D.
Psychological Phases of Weight Loss Efforts
The study points to six psychological phases of a weight loss journey:
1. A defining moment In this initial phase something happens that triggers you to want to make a change. It may be frustration over fitting into clothes, seeing an unflattering photo of yourself or a friend’s health problem that scares you into making a change, says Dr. Scott Kahan, director of the National Center for Weight and Wellness, Washington, D.C.
2. Consideration In the second stage, you feel hopeful and determined and begin to look into your options. “You’re ready to take action and engage,” says Kahan.
3. Momentum As momentum builds, you’re confident and excited. You’re feeling proud of your weight loss accomplishments and other people are telling you they’ve noticed.
4. Plateau Relationships, business meetings and life in general take away energy from weight loss efforts at this stage, says Kahan. “Plateaus when the scale doesn’t move are inevitable. When you don’t have support at this stage, you may give up because you feel as if you can’t do it.” Confidence seeps away. Frequent lapses in your regime result in the weight stabilizing.
5. Collapse At this point, frustration takes hold, you’re tired and about to give up.
6. Fatigue You’ve given up and feel exhausted. You are unwilling to focus any more mental energy on weight loss efforts. The weight comes back on.
In general, this cyclical process occurs over approximately six to nine months, according to Kahan. “For example, many people have that ‘defining moment’ after January 1. By May, the scale is stuck. And they’ve fallen into the fatigue stage by Labor Day.”
Now for the good news: You can beat the odds if you’re aware of the pitfalls and take steps to overcome them. “Awareness is first and foremost,” says Kahan. “You can learn a lot by going through these stages.”
Interestingly, although conventional wisdom says people over 50 have more trouble losing weight than younger people, actual research shows that’s not true, Kahan adds. “Accountability, however, whether in a group setting or one-on-one, generally leads to the most weight loss,” he says.
A New Approach for Success
Knowing what to expect in cases that end in failure can help you avoid embarking on another weight loss attempt that is bound to fall apart. To do so, it is important to start down this process differently than you have before, says Quebbemann.
“The key is to start with the right goal in mind. The goal of simply losing weight is rarely tangible enough to keep a person focused,” he adds. Instead of focusing on the scale, think of the things you’ll be able to do once you lose the weight, such as hiking the Grand Canyon with friends.
It’s useful to look at the long-term, too. Thinking of rapid, immediate weight loss and expecting it to last a lifetime, is like deciding at the age of 64 to start investing for your retirement, says Quebbemann. “It’s more reasonable and more realistic to think of ‘weight control‘ rather than ‘weight loss.’ This starts you off with the concept that your goal is long-term, rather than a goal of immediate satisfaction,” he notes.
Mixing It Up to Reach Your Weight Loss Goal
Accept that your life will change over time, and your methods of maintaining a healthy control of your weight will change, too, says Quebbemann.
“If you start an exercise regimen by going to the gym, it’s alright to change to swimming or a walking program in the future,” he notes. In fact, mixing it up can keep you from getting bored and help you stay active.
Lastly, Quebbemann emphasizes the importance of setting a realistic goal and tweaking it as time goes on.
“One of the surest ways to fail is what I call the Olympic Champion mistake. This is where a person comes into my clinic who is 80 pounds overweight and hasn’t exercised regularly in 20 years and they tell me that they want to run a marathon,” says Quebbemann. Instead of setting the bar unrealistically high, work up to it by setting smaller goals along the way.
In the end, if you want a quick fix and immediate short-term results, then be prepared for a brief period of success at best, and almost certain long-term failure, says Quebbemann.
Instead, take a new approach, set realistic goals and be willing to adjust those goals over time to lose weight for good.