Weight Management Psychology – Can it Work?

Introduction

Do you find it a challenge to manage your weight? Have you had initial success with a weight loss program only to find that the weight comes creeping back? You begin a new program, again with some success, but again the weight returns – and so it goes on. If so, you are not alone. This diet cycle is a common experience.

Reports, research and discussion in the media point to body image and weight management as issues of widespread concern in modern society (Perreault, 2022, Virtanen et.al. 2021). These discussions are broad-ranging and comprehensive. They explore issues, causes and consequences around weight management and body image while also noting the many professional programs, guidelines and support options available to help us effectively maintain our weight. This information enables us to be well-informed about issues and options. However at a personal level, many of us continue to struggle to effectively manage our weight.

So why is it so hard?

This article considers this question. It focuses particularly on how professional counselling can contribute to effective, long term weight management and positive positive body image. It is intended to provide information rather than advice. For advice or support, you should consult appropriate weight management professionals who can help you identify, understand and cope with the issues that may be contributing to your personal weight and body image challenges.

Weight management is about more than diet and exercise

When it comes to managing our weight, we often focus on dietary guidelines and exercise regimes. Yet despite being well informed about these aspects, many of us still experience significant challenges in achieving our goals. This may be because we overlook psychological aspects – a major factor in healthy weight control.

While ineffective diets and exercise regimes may appear to be obvious reasons for failure to lose weight, they are often indicators of underlying psychological issues. For example, how do we think about food? Do we use food as a coping mechanism? Are there triggers that cause us to indulge in binge eating on unhealthy food? Do we see ourselves as a failure? How do we view our body image? These thoughts point to underlying factors which are significant in helping or hindering weight management efforts. These underlying thoughts are shaped by our mindset.

We need to be aware of our mindset.

Mindset

Our mindset comprises the perceptions, ideas and attitudes we have about ourselves and our world. It shapes our thoughts and actions about our diet and exercise experiences. A more negative mindset can set us up to fail even when we incorporate physical activity and healthy food into our daily routines. If we see ourselves as failure, we are likely to behave accordingly. For example, even when starting a new diet and exercise plan, we may have thoughts such as, “why bother? I’ll only put the weight back on,’ or ‘I already messed up so I’ll probably do it again’.

A more positive mindset facilitates successful weight management. For example, if we break our diet, or skip our exercise plan for one day, we might think ‘it was just this once. It won’t undo all the progress I’ve made’. Positive thoughts can increase our self-esteem and resolve.

It’s not so much about what happens as it is about how we respond to it.

Our mindset is shaped from early childhood. It develops and evolves as we grow and interact with our world. It is not not fixed. It can be changed – we can change it. However changing our ways of thinking and responding, particularly if they are long established, can be stressful and difficult to sustain.

This is where weight management psychology comes into play.

The Contribution of Weight Management Psychology

The psychological factors underlying weight management difficulties are complex and unique to each individual. Some may have developed in early childhood, becoming deeply ingrained in the way we think about ourselves. Identifying and managing these factors and how they influence our life is not easy. Research suggests that weight management counselling can help us to develop techniques and strategies to understand and change our mindset (Avery, et al 2016; Madigan et al, 2014).

Weight management psychology can help us to identify and explore our own unique mindset and to understand how it impacts on our efforts to manage our weight. Counsellors can guide us to understand this, teaching us techniques and strategies that will help counteract negative thoughts and replace less healthy habits with healthier ones.

Strategies that might be used to promote a positive mindset include goal setting, self-monitoring, providing feedback and reinforcement, and helping to increase personal motivation and self-belief. A more positive mindset will help us achieve our life goals

At the same time, it should be noted that weight loss counselling is not a replacement for diet and exercise plans. It aims to link the three elements – diet, exercise and mindset – that interact for effective weight management. Weight loss counselling highlights what, for most of us, is the missing piece in our weight management plans – a positive mindset.

Conclusion

This article discussed difficulties associated with successful weight management and body image. It noted that while we may be well-informed about diet and exercise regimes, many of us are unsuccessful in our efforts because we do not consider the impact of psychological factors – specifically our mindset – on our weight management efforts. It was noted that weight loss counselling can help us to make the connection between diets, exercise and mindset thereby easing our path on the weight loss journey. A positive mindset can make the difference between short-term and long-term success.

Trying to lose weight can be a frustrating and overwhelming process, but you do not have to do it alone. Weight loss counsellors are ready to help.

References

Avery A, Langley-Evans SC, Harrington M, Swift JA. “Setting targets leads to greater long-term weight losses and ‘unrealistic’ targets increase the effect in a large community-based commercial weight management group”. J Hum Nutr Diet. 2016 Dec;29(6):687-696. doi: 10.1111/jhn.12390. Epub 2016 Jun 14. PMID: 27302147; PMCID: PMC5111772.

Melbourne Image and Weight Loss Counselling (2022), Counselling in Melbourne https://www.counsellinginmelbourne.com.au/services/body-image-weight-loss-counselling/

Madigan, C., Daley, A., Lewis, A., Jolly, K., and Aveyard, P.,  (2014) Which weight-loss programmes are as effective as Weight Watchers®? British Journal of General Practice 2014; 64 (620): e128-e136. DOI: https://doi.org/10.3399/bjgp14X677491

Perreault, Leigh (2022) Patient education: Losing weight (Beyond the Basics) UpToDate

https://www.uptodate.com/contents/losing-weight-beyond-the-basics

Virtanen,J., Penttinen, M., Kautiainen, H. & Korhonen, P (2021) The impact of lifestyle counselling on weight management and quality of life among working-age females, Scandinavian Journal of Primary Health Care, 39:3, 382-388, DOI: 10.1080/02813432.2021.1958510

 

About the editor, Harshani Algiriya

I'm a Senior Counsellor with over 15-years of experience as a counsellor supporting clients from diverse cultural backgrounds. I treat Anxiety, Depression, Trauma, PTSD, Grief, Trauma and Parenting issues, with Relationships (marriage and individuals) being a special interest that I have a lot of passion working with. I use a range of treatment modalities based on the presenting issues and often uses them in combination to achieve the best result for my clients. Find out more about Harshani here.
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