Weight Loss and Psychology

Wednesday, December 12, 2007 - 12:47pm

By Dena McDowell, MS, RD

It's a fact: Losing weight is hard to do! Keeping the weight off is even harder. Unfortunately studies show that over 95 percent of dieters regain the weight lost in less than a year. With our nation's obesity problem continuing to rise, there must be a solution to help people shed excess pounds and keep it off for good. New research may be leading us in the right direction.

A calorie is a calorie

It is true that a calorie is a calorie; however, how we choose to consume those calories may be a whole different story. After years of counseling people to lose weight by decreasing portions only to watch them struggle to prevent the weight from returning, it occurred to me that there must be more to the story. Researchers at Brown University and the University of Colorado thought the same thing and in 1994 created the National Weight Control Registry. The goal of this national registry is to study people who have been successful in their weight loss. Over 4500 people are part of the study group and to qualify, each must have lost at least 30 pounds and have keep it off for at least one year. Any health expert knows that to decrease body weight, one must consume fewer calories and expend calories through exercise. Successful weight loss encompasses diet and exercise, but it also must have a basis in behavior change.

What makes a successful loser of weight?

Inga Treitler, Ph.D., lead researcher, who has been following these 4500 people for the last decade uses the Hermann Brain Dominance Instrument (HBDI) to assess how these people think about life and how their thought processes relate to food intake. Scoring of the HBDI provides information on how people tend to think. Based on the answers to this 120-question questionnaire, people are grouped into four different categories:

People who are part of "Group A" are those who use their left upper hemisphere of the brain in their decision making process. "Group A" people tend to think very mathematically and follow logic in their decision making. These people may overanalyze situations, causing paralysis when it comes to making decisions. When it comes to dieting, these people tend to give up easily if the weight does not fall off quickly.

People who use their left lower brain hemisphere for decision making tend to be very controlling and crave discipline and structure. They like routine and are comfortable with the monotony of doing the same task over and over again. These people are known as "Group B" and are usually very good at following structured diet and exercise plans.

People who fall into the "Group C" category favor their right lower quadrant of the brain for decision making. These people are very emotional and spiritual. They crave the company of others and long for the human connection. "Group C" people have trouble following a structured diet plan because of how their emotions trigger eating.

Others who use their right upper quadrant of the brain are known as "Group D." These people love to take risks and are easily bored with the monotony of following a strict eating and exercise plan. These people often follow fad diets and look for the quick fix with diet pills to shed extra pounds.

It takes more than just brains to lose weight

Treitler has found that people who are predominantly Type B in their decision making are the most likely to lose the weight and keep it off for good. These people are determined and are not bothered by the structure of a diet and exercise plan. People who are not part of this structure-driven group can still be successful in weight loss but need to work at becoming better at putting organization and discipline back into their lives. To be successful in weight loss, one must be able to commit to the goal of weight loss and not be deterred by emotions, time it takes to lose, or self-loathing.

First comes off the weight. Then what?

The majority of these volunteers have not only been able to control their food intake, but they also have worked on themselves from inside out. Most, if not all, of the study participants who have been successful have used losing weight as a way to transform their inner self. Being able to lose weight is a tremendous accomplishment. People who are successful tend to use their weight loss success as a fuel to be the person that they have always wanted to be. Whether that is to follow a different career path or become a better spouse or partner, the successful loser will take their weight loss success and use it to increase their self-confidence.

Weight loss success equals empowerment

To be successful in losing excess weight one must take the job seriously and apply the ability to control one's environment to not only the food choices but also to the decisions they make in life. For example, a person may be emotionally overeating due to stress at work. Discovering the stressors and empowering yourself to change the situation may consequently result in decreased stress and as a result the ability to make better food choices. Being able to organize and not detract from a structured meal and exercise plan will help you reach your goals. Once you realize the key to weight loss is in rethinking how you react to the world around, you can find success in structuring your eating and exercise habits. Go to the National Weight Control Registry to find out more about ongoing research.