Mind Skills for Lasting Weight Loss

The development of behavioral and cognitive skills learned during weight loss is critical to successful maintenance.
Science Centre

Weight-loss programs have expanded education to include several techniques from the fields of behavioral psychology and, more recently, cognitive therapy.

Knowing what to do to lose weight and applying that knowledge to daily life are two very different things.

For many years, weight-loss programs have expanded education to include several techniques from the field of behavioural psychology. Examples include self-monitoring food intake, exercise and body weight; altering the environment to avoid problem foods, and goal setting.

CBT Techniques
More recently, behaviour modification methods have expanded to include techniques from the field of cognitive therapy. Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, or CBT, involves the identification and modification of thinking patterns and negative mood states that can undermine lasting weight loss.1

It is widely recognised that the development of behavioural and cognitive skills learned during weight loss is critical to successful maintenance. Indeed, lacking coping and problem-solving skills appear to be important factors in weight regain after a loss.2 Black-and-white thinking, a cognitive style characterised by viewing actions as being good or bad and as right or wrong, is also a significant predictor of weight regain.3

People who have never been overweight as well as those who have successfully achieved a lasting weight loss share the characteristics of confronting problems directly (95% and 60%, respectively) and using personally developed strategies to help themselves. Those who have lost weight only to regain it are much more likely to eat unconsciously in response to emotions (70%) and not confront problems directly (10%).4

Role of Coping Skills
Successful weight-loss maintainers are less likely to be emotional eaters (using food to regulate their mood).5 They have developed coping skills to deal with stress as well as the skill of flexible restraint,6 which refers to a moderate level of control on eating. The development of coping skills is particularly helpful in dealing with food temptations and preventing the abandonment of weight-management efforts.7 Mental simulation, a cognitive skill that involves creating the process for reaching a goal or dealing with a stressful situation, has also been shown to produce positive results.8

view footnotes

The Weight Watchers Approach:

Behaviour modification is one of the pillars of the Weight Watchers approach and includes traditional behaviour strategies like self-monitoring as well as a unique CBT approach called Weight Watchers Tools for Living.


Other Science Library Topics:

1Liao KL. Cognitive-behavioural approaches and weight management: an overview. J R Soc Health. 2000 Mar;120(1):27-30.

2Byrne SM. Psychological aspects of weight maintenance and relapse in obesity. J Psychosom Res. 2002 Nov;53(5):1029-36.

3Byrne SM, Cooper Z, Fairburn CG. Psychological predictors of weight regain in obesity. Behav Res Ther. 2004 Nov;42(11):1341-56.

4Kayman S, Bruvold W, Stern JS. Maintenance and relapse after weight loss in women: behavioural aspects. Am J Clin Nutr. 1990 Nov;52(5):800-7.

5Byrne S, Cooper Z, Fairburn C. Weight maintenance and relapse in obesity: a qualitative study. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord. 2003 Aug;27(8):955-62.

6Westenhoefer J, von Falck B, Stellfeldt A, Fintelmann S. Behavioural correlates of successful weight reduction over 3 y. Results from the Lean Habits Study. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord. 2004 Feb;28(2):334-5.

7Carels RA, Douglass OM, Cacciapaglia HM, O'Brien WH. An ecological momentary assessment of relapse crises in dieting. J Consult Clin Psychol. 2004 Apr;72(2):341-8.

8Taylor SE, Pham LB, Rivkin ID, Armor DA. Harnessing the imagination. Mental simulation, self-regulation, and coping. Am Psychol. 1998 Apr;53(4):429-39.