Strict calorie controlled diets can be successful in the short term, in terms of attaining your ideal weight. However, for more long term weight loss goals, the calorie counting approach can prove to be extremely difficult to maintain. Common experiences include ‘yo-yo’ dieting, where an individual attains their weight loss goal, only to gain even more weight once they begin to eat more ‘normally’.
Even the process of dieting can be tricky for some. One of the problems experienced by many who diet is that they lose weight one week, and then put on a little bit then next week. Then they might lose some weight the week after that, only to put more on again after. This ‘weight cycling’ as it is sometimes called, can make the attainment of that goal seem like an even bigger struggle. There may be many reasons for the phenomenon of weight cycling, but perhaps the one that makes most sense is the feeling of accomplishment that follows the success of weight loss one week, followed by a feeling that a reward is needed for the good work achieved so far.
Both of the experiences discussed here can occur when the focus is on goal achievement specifically.
Hennecke and Freund (2014) looked at the difference between focussing on the goal achievement compared with focusing on the process of dieting itself. It was found here that those whose focus was on goal achievement gained more weight following a week of weight loss.
They also found that dieters were more successful if they identified success on the process level rather than the outcome. These individuals were also calorie counting, however the focus was placed more how successful they were able to adopt this into their everyday lives. This meant that they were more able to maintain these changes over time, as opposed to those who slipped back into bad habits once their goal had been achieved.
So what does this mean for you?
Put simply, if you want to make long term changes, this study would suggest that it is more beneficial to focus on how you can make changes to your everyday life in order to be successful. Whether that’s reducing portion size, or substituting calorific foods for healthier choices, it is better to judge your success on how well you have integrated these changes into your lifestyle rather than focussing solely on the end result.
These findings aren’t just restricted to people who want to lose weight but may be generalised to any change that you would like to make in your life.
For example, if you are attempting to quit smoking you could focus on the integration of small things that are going to help you be smoke free throughout each day. Or if you are trying to increase your activity levels, what can you do throughout each day that you will be able to integrate into your routine and will assist in your increased activity?
So it may be useful to have a think about the process of change rather than the end result itself.