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  • Anne Nisenzon, PhD

The Psychology of Weight Loss and Maintenance: Changing Your Mindset First


After the holiday celebrations and indulgences, many people choose losing weight as one of their New Year’s resolutions. As we have likely experienced, New Year’s resolutions often lose steam as life comes up and knocks us off our game. Keeping a healthy diet and exercising can be an especially difficult goal to maintain as it requires focus, dedication, and good planning, all of which can be derailed by stress.


Mindset plays a huge role in getting past the initial weight loss energy boost to get to long-term maintenance. Unfortunately, there are no real “tricks” to weight loss or maintenance that are sustainable. Keeping a steady eye on your goals and the motivations behind your goals helps you push through the hard times. Also setting your weight loss goals based upon values rather than emotions can help sustain your progress. Values are things that will matter to you regardless of others’ opinions, the season, or any other fleeting circumstance. For example, are you trying to lose weight because you’re afraid of going up a pant size or because you want to be able to keep pace with your children? Clothing sizes constantly shift (and are often meaningless) whereas time with your children may be persistently valuable to you, even when they are driving you crazy! Being mindful of your values rather than reactive to your emotions may help you make the tough decisions when it comes to health choices.

The National Weight Control Registry, the largest study on long-term successful weight loss maintenance, has compiled several additional suggestions to help make weight maintenance a lifetime plan:


1) Learn how your body works. It’s not your enemy! Understanding and responding to hunger cues can help you differentiate between your need for fuel and your need for comfort. Being more attuned and compassionate to your body is important in making food choices and respecting your body’s need for movement or rest.


2) Adjust your attitude to let go of the “I’m a failure” syndrome. We often have a tendency to think in “all or nothing” terms. Either I’m a total success or a total failure! This mentality can keep us from sustaining long-term goals, since inevitably there will be plateaus or drops along the way. Expecting set backs and using them as learning opportunities rather than “failures” helps you move through them with grace and gratitude.


3) Accept that there is some discomfort involved. For many people, weight loss is a lot harder than weight gain, and weight maintenance may be the most difficult goal of all. Acknowledging that you’ll have to make tough food choices or experience discomfort when exercising makes the struggle a little more bearable. Willingness to experience the discomfort in order to reach your ultimate goals and values is a choice only you can make.


4) Focus on the positives. In order to stay on the long road of weight loss and maintenance, it is important to celebrate the small victories. Because any small set back can feel like a failure (see #2), making a conscious effort to focus on the positives helps you see the bigger picture and keep going.


5) Don’t go it alone. Make your weight loss and maintenance goals public. Ask for and welcome support! Not only in weight loss behaviors like healthy eating and exercise, but in challenging negative or self-defeating thoughts that pull you away from your goals. Friends, family, or other support systems can remind you of why you started your weight loss journey to begin with and keep you going during the rough patches.