Why Weight Loss Goals Fail

Two thirds of Americans are overweight and weight loss is typically the top goal for people year after year. Why, then, do people continually fail to lose the weight? So many people say, “I’m on a diet” or “I’m watching what I am eating” or “I really need to lose weight” only to sabotage their efforts every step of the way. Or, they try for a short period of time and give up feeling defeated. It is true that most people are not successful on their first attempt at weight loss. Research has shown that approximately 75% of women have attempted weight loss an average of seven times and 55% of men an average of three times.

It seems like lack of success may be due to why people decide to lose weight in the first place. So many people working on weight loss goals site reasons like health problems, concerns about future health problems, or how they look. Others may decide to do so because someone like a doctor or family member asks them to lose weight or due to fear that they may face discrimination in the workplace. If you notice, not one of these reasons have an internal focus. There are very few people who decide to take on a challenging goal like weight loss because they wake up one day and decide that they want to change for them. One might argue that concern for disease may be more internal, but by and large, people to try to lose weight are doing so because of outside pressure.

When we are pressured to do anything, most of us have an immediate oppositional teenager response. No! I won’t and you can’t make me. Sure, we might go through the motions to placate someone else, maybe even to say to ourselves that we are trying, but are we? I don’t know about you, but when I have had a goal where I am very committed to the outcome, I don’t let anything stand in my way. On the flip side, if I am ambivalent or even apathetic about the outcome, I put in minimal effort at best. However, if I want to make changes for me, I am more invested. If you take weight loss out of the equation and just focus on developing healthy lifestyle habits because you feel good physically and mentally, you are more likely to experience success.

Another factor, and maybe even more important, is the belief that you can accomplish your goal. How can you accomplish anything if you don’t believe it is possible? Why would you try to accomplish a goal when you feel like you are destined to fail? How much time, attention, and energy would you devote to the task? Yet, so many people who attempt weight loss have this very attitude. This is what we call a self-fulfilling prophecy. When we predict an outcome, we either consciously or unconsciously cause the very thing we fear to come true. By challenging our negative self-talk and identifying successes along the way, we can create a positive self-fulfilling prophecy.

The third important factor is anticipating obstacles. If we can identify potential pitfalls and create effective strategies ahead of time, we are much more likely to succeed. Coming up with a plan B never hurts. When working with clients, I treat weight loss just like substance abuse counseling by helping them create an effective relapse prevention plan. When you feel like you have options, you are more likely to use them. More often than not, when we fail to plan ahead, we are unable to see the strategies, skills and tools we do have available to help us.

So, if I believe I can do it, I am committed to achieving the goal and I have planned for potential barriers, what can stop me? Only myself.

Michelle Lewis

Michelle Lewis

Michelle Lewis has a Bachelor's degree in Psychology from Weber State University and a Master's degree in Social Work from the University of Utah. She has been working in the mental health field since 2001.

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