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The No. 1 Obstacle to Weight Loss

The No. 1 Obstacle to Weight LossHave you tried to lose weight? 

More than one third of U.S. adults currently are obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Physicians and other health care professionals urge us to lose weight or risk becoming vulnerable to a host of diseases, including diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease. Weight loss has become a national conversation.

On an individual basis, most of us either have tried to lose weight or are actively engaged in maintaining a healthy weight.  Why we struggle with weight and how best to lose weight are hotly debated topics.  The nation’s current weight struggles have been attributed to a range of biological, societal and personal problems such as unhealthy school lunches, media advertising, too much corn and corn syrup in our diets, sugar substitutes, lack of willpower, overreliance on fast and prepackaged foods and many more.

But what gets in the way of your ability to lose weight?

Is it lack of time to prepare healthy meals?  Lack of willpower to stick to a healthy eating and exercise routine?  The intense influence of advertisements urging you to eat unhealthy foods?  Lack of interest? Not knowing how to lose weight?

The answer, according to a new survey of psychologists suggests that when it comes to dieting, weight loss and weight gain, emotions play a central role and may be the primary obstacle to weight loss.

Have you ever felt guilty after eating a cookie and then decided to eat the whole box, since you’d already blown your diet? Have you felt low and skipped exercise? Then you’ve experienced emotions interfering with your weight loss.

If we were merely cognitive beings, we’d eat the cookie, evaluate how it affects our daily calorie intake, and make adjustments to get back on track.

But we’re not merely cognitive beings. According to the survey of more than 1,300 licensed psychologists, conducted by the Consumer Reports National Research Center, understanding and managing the behaviors and emotions related to weight management is essential to weight loss.

In fact, emotional eating was considered a barrier to 43 percent of people who wanted to better manage their weight.  And it’s not just emotional eating.  Emotions can interfere with maintaining a regular workout routine and making healthy food choices.

Getting Help for Weight Loss

So what can you do, if you’ve tried to eat healthy and exercise regularly and found that it’s just not working? 

More than 70 percent of the psychologists who provide weight loss treatment identified several key treatments and strategies for addressing the underlying emotional issues related to weight gain.  Those strategies considered “excellent” included:

  • Cognitive therapy: a treatment that helps people identify and address negative thoughts and emotions that can lead to unhealthy behaviors
  • Problem-solving:   Finding alternate solutions to setbacks, changes and obstacles
  • Mindfulness:  Using strategies to allow thoughts and emotions to come and go without judging them, and instead concentrate on being aware of the moment

Also considered important in helping clients to lose weight and keep it off were the following:

  • Motivational strategies
  • Keeping behavioral records
  • Goal-setting

Although weight problems may be caused by an array of biological, emotional, behavioral and environmental issues, it has become clear that stress and emotions play a central role in our ability to manage our weight.  Without strategies to recognize emotional triggers and respond to our emotions effectively, we are likely to continue to struggle with our weight and health.

The No. 1 Obstacle to Weight Loss

Christy Matta, MA

Christy Matta M.A. is a trainer, consultant and writer. She is the author of "The Stress Response: How Dialectical Behavior Therapy Can Free You from Needless Anxiety, Worry, Anger, and Other Symptoms of Stress."

Christy has worked in mental health since 1994, is intensively trained in Dialectical Behavior Therapy(DBT) and has extensive training in Mindfulness. She is an experienced group leader and trainer in both Mindfulness and DBT Skills Groups. Christy blogs regularly for Psych Central at Dialectical Behavior Therapy Understood.

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APA Reference
Matta, C. (2018). The No. 1 Obstacle to Weight Loss. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 30, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 7 Mar 2013)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.