The real reason those extra kilos won’t budge

A new study suggests your weight loss struggles might not lie with your food and exercise choices Whether it’s a New Year’s resolution or an ongoing struggle, weight loss is a major issue for many Australians. According to 2015 Australian Institute of Health and Welfare data, almost two in three Australian adults and one in four children are overweight or obese.

Whatever the issue might be, a new study from the US has investigated the effects of a positive mindset for healthy food choices.

Referring to the secret as “the self-as-doer identity”, the study found positive affirmations were the key to weight loss.

The six-week study involved 124 women between the ages of 18 and 53, who reported themselves as having unhealthy eating habits.

At random, the women were broken into three categories: a control group; an education group, where they were taught about nutrition and portion size; and a self-doer activity group.

Participants in the third group were told to create six personal healthy-eating goals.

For example, those who wanted to eat more fruits and vegetables would say to themselves, “I eat a lot of fruit and vegetables”, continually affirming the statements to themselves.

The study got participants to log all their food choices daily and found that those in the third group maintained and continued healthy eating.

Participants who were placed in the control and education groups began eating healthily, but decreased this over the course of the experiment.

“We were surprised to see that women in the control and education groups demonstrated a decrease in total healthy food consumption over the course of the intervention,” the researchers said.

The researchers also found the way those in the self-as-doer group worded their goals made a difference.

“One consideration as to the effectiveness of the self-as-doer intervention for specific food groups is the degree to which approach (e.g. ‘veggie eater’) versus avoidant (e.g. ‘less soda drinker’), goal generation and corresponding self-as-doer statements may have influenced behaviour change,” they said.

Sydney dietitian Dr Naras Lapsys agrees with the method, saying he has been using it on his clients for years.

“It’s about motivational psychology.

“It’s something that psychologists and dieticians have known for a while.”

But he says it does not necessarily work for everyone and the method cannot be sustained without additional support over a long time.

“It doesn’t work for everybody,” Lapsys says.

“It can work for a certain period of time, but these things wear off. They would need to have some kind of support after the six-week period.

Clinical psychologist Louise Adams agrees a six-week trial is not long enough to claim a cure for obesity.

“We know that basically anything works in the short term,” she says.

“You could have a fad diet, you could follow sensible nutrition guidelines, try to cut down on portion size – this study is adding in psychological components and we know from research that adding in psychological components in the short term produces very small but clinically significant additions in clinical trials like this, but in the long term, looking at weight loss is pretty dire. This has not uncovered the holy grail of weight loss.”

However, positive thinking still plays a major part in success.

As Adams says, it’s about balance and making sure you aren’t depriving yourself.

“If we’re going after something, the motivation is more likely to be intrinsic and stick around longer,” she says.

“But if we tell ourselves to do something less or don’t do that, we’ll trigger that deprivation response.”

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