The Psychology of Weight Loss

When psychologists examine why some people are successful at losing weight and others aren’t, they notice that successful dieters have key psychological differences from those who are unsuccessful:

  1. Successful dieters are realistic. They recognize that it took time to put all that weight on and that it will take time to take it off. They set realistic goals for themselves, such as to strive to only lose 1 pound a week. They make many small changes that they can live with rather than drastic changes that they can’t possibly live with long term.
  2. Successful dieters have a “no excuses” attitude. You simply have to stop making excuses for yourself and just do it. Don’t wait for New Year’s or any other special date to start living healthier, do it now.
  3. Successful dieters make a lifetime commitment. They don’t look at dieting as something they’ll just do until they lose the weight; they realize that it is a lifestyle change. This is another reason why it’s better to make little changes that you can live with rather than go on a fad diet. It has to be changes that you can realistically see yourself doing for the rest of your life.
  4. Successful dieters do it for themselves. You have to want to lose weight for yourself, not to make somebody else happy. One of the biggest causes in failure to lose weight is doing it for somebody else. If you’re trying to lose weight so that your spouse will find you more attractive or so that someone else will get off your back, you’re just causing more of that stress and anxiety that prevents you from losing weight. Lose the weight because you want to be healthier, not so that you can fit somebody else’s definition of what is acceptable.
  5. Successful dieters keep active. “Staying active” doesn’t just refer to physical activity, but can also refer to staying busy in general. Keeping your mind and body busy can keep you from thinking about food and thus keep you from feeling hungry. Mind-numbing activities like sitting around watching TV increases feelings of hunger.
  6. Successful dieters resolve underlying stress and emotional issues. Successful dieters have resolved any stress and emotional issues that have caused the weight gain. They also surround themselves with supportive and positive people.
  7. Successful dieters don’t weigh themselves. Research has found that weighing yourself is very demotivating and actually not that good of an indication that you’re losing weight. A glass of water weighs a pound. If you drink a glass of water and then get on the scale, it’s going to look like you’ve gained a pound even though you really haven’t. A better indication of weight loss is how your clothes feel on you.
  8. Successful dieters change the way they think about calories.People often get very confused when it comes to how many calories they should be consuming a day. How many of you think that it’s okay to be consuming 2,000 calories a day? Yeah, a lot of people do because on the package of every food product it says “based on a 2,000 calorie diet.”. But did you know that eating 2,000 calories a day will cause most people to gain weight? Those guidelines you see on the food wrappers are actually calibrated for an adult man with a very active lifestyle, not the average American.The amount of calories you should be taking in a day in order to be at and maintain your goal weight is actually different for every person. If you want to find out what your daily calorie allowance is, I recommend going to the website You plug in your current weight, height, gender, activity level, and goal weight, and it tells you how many calories you can eat per day in order to achieve your goal weight after a year. Something I tell my clients is that they need to think about calories like they do money. You only have so much you can spend per day, so you need to get used to adding up the number of calories in the food you eat. Just as most of us will look at the price of something before we consider purchasing it, we need to check the calories on something before we decide to eat it.

Let’s do a quick review of the psychological factors that lead to weight gain and weight loss.

Psychological factors that contribute to weight gain:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Not getting enough sleep
  • Stress
  • ADHD
  • Trauma and loss
  • Relationship problems
  • Divorce
  • Childhood abuse
  • Family conflict
  • Parenting issues
  • Multitasking while eating

Psychological factors associated with weight loss:

  • Self-love and self-acceptance
  • Self-empowerment
  • Having regular sex
  • Coping skills
  • More consistent sleep
  • Healthy relationships
  • Positive thinking
  • Emotionally detaching from food
  • Having an active and fun lifestyle


Shaming people, stressing out about your weight, over-dieting, over-exercising, and trying to lose weight while not addressing the underlying emotional issues that caused you to gain the weight in the first place are not going to help you lose weight. If one of your goals is to lose weight, you first need to be willing to address your issues, such as depression, anxiety, stress, and relationship conflicts. This isn’t to say that everyone who is overweight is also struggling with mental health issues, but if you’ve been unsuccessful in losing weight in the past, this may be the reason why.


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