The Predictors of Successful Weight Loss

Predictors have been summarised for both initial weight loss and sustained weight loss.
The Predictors of Successful Weight Loss

Predictors have been summarised for both initial weight loss and sustained weight loss, but predictors alone do not guarantee success.

When scientists study a particular health-related condition that applies to a group of people, it is often helpful to find common characteristics, also called predictors, to better understand and treat individuals within the group.

Looking at a group of people who have had a heart attack, for instance, predictors of success (i.e., avoiding another heart attack) might include participating in a cardiac rehab program, regular exercise, weight loss and taking prescribed medications.

Predictors, taken alone, do not guarantee an individual's outcome with complete accuracy. They can be helpful, however, to understand the vulnerabilities that a person faces in overcoming a health-related problem and to focus behaviour-change efforts to those areas most likely to make a positive difference.

When it comes to weight management, predictors have been summarised for both initial weight loss and sustained weight loss.1

For initial weight loss, some of the predictors are high self-confidence; participation in a weight-loss program; continued participation in a weight-loss method; being physically active; using behaviour modification techniques, like self-monitoring and goal setting; and having social support. These predictors carry through for sustained weight loss and a few more are added, including having a positive coping style; continued contact with those who supported the initial weight loss; improved health measures, and developing a "normal" eating style.

Risk Factors Identified
Just as there are predictors of weight-loss success, there are risk factors linked with a lack of success. Two that have been consistently found by a number of investigators deal with the number of dieting attempts made and expectations at the start of a weight-loss effort. A history of repeated attempts at weight loss (e.g., 3-4 attempts in the past year) has been linked with both a higher likelihood to drop out of a weight-loss program and a lower amount of weight lost if the program is completed.2

Expectations & Success
The relationship between expectations going into a weight-loss attempt and subsequent success is an interesting one. Described as curvilinear, both those who begin weight loss with a very accepting attitude (i.e., would be happy with minimal weight loss) and those with unrealistically high expectations lose the least amount of weight. The most weight loss is found among those with moderate expectations.3

Many people start a weight-loss program full of optimism and strong feelings of self-confidence. While confidence is linked with weight-loss success, it needs to be moderated with realistic expectations.

Without feasible goals concerning the amount of time and effort needed, the rate of weight loss, and benefits to be gained with self-change, a self-determined assessment of failure can occur. Applying lessons learned from previous dieting attempts that were derailed by this false hope syndrome can be instrumental in achieving lasting weight loss.4

view footnotes

The Weight Watchers Approach:

The Weight Watchers approach is designed around the predictors of long-term weight loss. Each of the predictors of weight-loss success – from setting realistic goals to developing positive coping skills – is represented.


Other Science Library Topics:

1Institute of Medicine. 1995. Weighing the Options: criteria for evaluating weight-management programs. National Academy Press, Washington D.C.

2Teixeira PJ, Going SB, Houtkooper LB, Cussler EC, Martin CJ, Metcalfe LL, Finkenthal NR, Blew RM, Sardinha LB, Lohman TG. Weight loss readiness in middle-aged women: psychosocial predictors of success for behavioural weight reduction. J Behav Med. 2002 Dec;25(6):499-523.

3Teixeira PJ, Going SB, Houtkooper LB, Cussler EC, Metcalfe LL, Blew RM, Sardinha LB, Lohman TG. Pretreatment predictors of attrition and successful weight management in women. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord. 2004 Sep;28(9):1124-33.

4Polivy J. The false hope syndrome: unrealistic expectations of self-change. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord. 2001 May;25 Suppl 1:S80-4.