The weight loss industry is one of the most lucrative industries in the world. Nearly half of Americans are overweight or obese, and the majority of them are always trying to find ways to lose weight. Being overweight not only creates physical problems, such as back and knee pain, but can also be life threatening. People who have high body mass index (BMI) rates are at increased risk for serious health conditions such as diabetes, stroke, and heart attack. They are also more vulnerable to feelings of negative self-worth that contribute to depression and anxiety. Overweight people may create their own feelings of worth based on their image but may also find themselves the target of prejudice or discrimination because of their weight. In sum, the negative impacts of being overweight are significant.
In the quest to find successful weight loss programs, researchers, doctors and laypeople have examined the multiple aspects that affect motivation and persistence. In a recent study, Charles Swencionis of the Ferkauf Graduate School of Psychology at Yeshiva University in New York looked at how vitality and overall physical and psychological quality of life would be affected by weight loss in a sample of 588 overweight individuals. The participants were randomly assigned to one of three different weight loss programs for 1 year. Swencionis assessed them at the beginning of the treatment, halfway through, and again at conclusion.
He found that even with a modest weight loss of only 5 pounds, the participants had lower levels of depression and anxiety than they had prior to the program. The participants also reported higher levels of well-being and vitality. In fact, the feeling of vitality was ultimately the strongest predictor of weight loss for the participants. In sum, the results of this study demonstrate the multiple positive effects of weight loss. “However, the finding that vitality is key to weight change has implications for health care professionals treating individuals for excess weight,” said Swencionis. He believes that interventions might consider focusing on the self-control that is gained by feelings of vitality in order to create a cycle of positive reinforcement that can support weight loss efforts.
Swencionis, C., Wylie-Rosett, J., Lent, M. R., Ginsberg, M., Cimino, C., Wassertheil-Smoller, S., et al. (2012). Weight change, psychological well-being, and vitality in adults participating in a cognitive–behavioral weight loss program. Health Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0029186
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