Obesity researchers from the University of Surrey in the UK published a fascinating and enlightening study about fat loss and fat loss maintenance that predicted how likely you are to take the fat off and keep the fat off successfully.
This scientific review was based on an exhaustive analysis of 152 of the most relevant studies on this subject. The title was called, “Problems in identifying predictors and correlates of weight loss and maintenance based on behavior change.”
However, even as they were talking about problems, the end result was a remarkable checklist of solutions. Basically, this study identified the psychological and behavioral traits of successful fat loss maintainers. In other words, who burns the fat and keeps it off, and who gains it back.
While this research has produced a list that can help predict your future success or failure, it was made clear that there are no absolutes that apply to everyone, and that correlations don’t equal causation. The authors agreed that each person is different and programs must be customized for those differences:
“It may be more valuable to develop flexible weight loss programs that allow people to tailor them to fit their own lifestyle rather than trying to crowbar different “types” of people into discrete types of treatment.”
The authors also emphasized that people who use multiple strategies are far more successful at weight loss and weight maintenance than those who use only one strategy, such as diet alone. (Which is exactly why there are 4 distinct elements in the Burn the Fat, Feed the Muscle program).
Although proper diet was unanimously correlated with better weight loss and weight maintenance, diet is only one of numerous strategies, including behavioral and psychological:
“The more dimensions or modules of behavior change that a person can fit in their lives, the greater the chance of success.”
They ended by saying that even the most successful maintainers (such as members of the National Weight Control Registry) have frequent small relapses and find them difficult to recover from. If you’ve had setbacks, you’re not alone. The difference between the people who get back on track and those who don’t, is the behavioral and psychological strategies included in the list below.
Take a look at the list and you’ll get as clear a picture of your fat loss future as any you’ll ever get… and if you don’t like the prediction, you’ll know exactly what you need to do to change your “forecast.”
18 Success Factors That Predict Fat Loss and Long Term Fat Loss Maintenance
Genetics play a role in obesity. But, obesity is the result of genetics interacting with environment and behavior, not genetics alone.
With extremely rare exceptions such as the FTO gene, leptin and MC4 gene variants, genetic factors influence, but do not cause obesity. Outside things like rare gene mutations, the genetic factors that have been connected to obesity show correlations only. (In other words, some people who appear to have been dealt a bad hand of genetic cards went on to succeed anyway).
People successful at weight loss and weight maintenance understand this and they see themselves in control and not at the mercy of genetics. They take charge of and responsibility for the environmental and behavioral factors that they do control.
Age is one of those areas where prediction of weight loss or maintenance success is not so cut and dried. Getting older is on the list, but, being older alone is NOT a direct cause of poor weight loss or maintenance results.
Most people believe that weight loss gets harder with age. People assume that metabolism slows down with age, but that is true only if you remain sedentary and sarcopenia sets in. Some older people actually find it easier to lose weight and even have trouble keeping their appetite up.
Researchers say that many older people are more experienced so while they may have had relapse in the past, they may have also had more time to learn coping strategies to avoid relapse in the future. Other people don’t learn from their past experience, so they are chronic relapsers their entire lives.
Women experience lower absolute weight losses than men, but some research suggests that women also have smaller relative fat losses. In either case, weight loss is slower and more challenging for most women as compared to men.
Women who follow a solid nutrition and training plan and adopt the attitudes and behaviors necessary for success WILL reach their goals, but they cannot eat as much as men or lose as quickly as men – they have to set goals appropriate for their gender.
4. Weight cycling
Multiple previous attempts at weight loss followed by weight regain predict poor success at future attempts. Keep in mind though, this is a correlation only. If you’ve lost and regained many times, you can succeed, but the key is, you must learn from past mistakes, and not repeat them.
5. Coping strategies
People with good coping strategies have better weight loss and maintenance results. Specifically, coping strategies that depend on confronting the problem and resolving challenges are far more successful than those based on avoiding them. Passivity or emotion-based coping (eating, sleeping more or wishing problems would go away), leads to failure and relapse.
Research shows that relapsers (weight regainers) tend to eat in response to stressful or negative life events and negative emotions. Research also shows that maintainers develop a “robust support network upon which they can rely” as one of their coping strategies and they turn to their network whenever they need help.
Self efficacy is the conviction that you can successfully execute the behavior required to produce the results you want. Differently stated, this is believing in yourself, and specifically, believing in your ability to follow the program (“I can do it” attitude).
Being self motivated predicts successful weight loss both from exercise and diet. Self motivation vacillates a lot for most people however. Research says that a huge deterrent to self motivation is small lapses, which cause motivation to waver. Another major reason for lapses in motivation is self criticism.
Successful maintainers are kind to themselves, avoiding critical self-talk, and they bounce back quickly from the lapses in motivation.
People who attribute (blame) their obesity to medical conditions are LESS successful at maintaining their weight loss. Psychologists believe this is most likely because they don’t believe they are in control of their results (see locus of control below).
9. Locus of control
A person with an internal locus of control believes that outcomes tend to be under their own control. A person with an external locus of control believes outcomes are outside their control and are controlled instead by environment, genes or chance. High internal locus of control strongly predicts fat loss success.
Proper nutrition is incontrovertibly considered one the strongest predictors of weight loss and maintenance. Most experts consider diet #1 at the outset of a weight loss program. Exercise plays an increasing role in maintenance.
Though there are thousands of diet programs, the one thing successful people have in common is that the diet is low in energy density. This could mean reducing sugars and starches, but contrary to low carb, high fat diets trending in popularity, there is ample evidence that reducing energy density with higher carb, lower fat diets also works (fat is highest in energy density, and when eaten in mixed diets, often leads to calorie excess).
In addition, over and over again, studies associate higher fruit intake, higher vegetable intake and eating breakfast with better weight loss and maintenance.
Exercise correlates very strongly with improved long-term weight maintenance.
Research is surprisingly mixed on the importance of exercise at the outset of a weight loss program. It’s important to note however, that the mixed research results about the role of exercise (cardio) in the initial weight loss likely has a lot to do with lack of nutritional control or self reporting of nutrition intake. It’s also due to the vague notion of “exercise” and the fact that some studies don’t even distinguish between weight training and cardio training or even define what moderate, low or high intensity means.
More recent research is smartly trending toward identifying the importance of resistance training and clarifying how vigorous exercise should be to gain the most benefits. Recent research has also emphasized that it’s important to reduce sedentary behaviors, not just increase exercise. For successful maintenance, the activity and exercise added also has to be something you can maintain as a lifestyle. Consistency always beats fiery spurts of effort.
12. Social support
Social support correlates highly with better ongoing weight loss and improved weight maintenance. In some studies, social support does not correlate as a pre-treatment indicator of future fat loss, but that’s because most people turn to social support later when they hit plateaus or need a coping strategy when stresses or difficulties arise.
The researchers said, “An individual’s degree of success is likely to be heavily influenced by their capacity to construct linkages and alliances with people sharing the same problem, and the quality of the social network available…”
Furthermore, researchers have found that when support was viewed by the recipient as promoting autonomy as opposed to being controlling, the participants obtained even better results. The self-help group dynamic of weight loss groups act as a catalyzing environment for the adoption of coping skills and strategies. Humans are intensely social animals, and often find it far easier to solve specific problems in a social context provided they consider that environment to be safe and secure.”
13. Personality (psychological) profiles
Some research shows that more developed personalities in terms of relating to other people are associated with greater success in weight loss and weight maintenance. That’s likely due to how it allows a person to take advantage of social support when it’s provided. Some psycho-pathologies are associated with poor weight loss and maintenance. Some of that might be related to use of drugs (anti depressants and anti psychotics) which may be linked to weight gain.
Depression is paradoxical and can affect weight loss either way. Some people, when depressed, turn to food as a coping mechanism. Others lose their appetite. One common finding among researchers is that a degree of dissatisfaction and unhappiness with the current state of one’s life is part of the “readiness to change” model required to muster the motivation to change in the first place. So it has been argued that feeling “depressed” in the sense of dissatisfaction could actually produce the motivation to change. Repeated bouts of depression however, without mechanisms to cope with them, are often the triggers of relapse.
Not even remotely surprising, attendance is one of the most consistent predictors of ongoing weight loss success. This should go without saying, but this confirmation should be a reminder that you are fooling yourself if you think skipping workouts, skipping meals, or skipping anything that’s an integral part of the program won’t matter. Everything matters. Again, consistency is key.
15. Early weight loss
Getting off to a good start and getting momentum going is a positive indicator of future success. This doesn’t necessarily mean that rapid fat loss diets or strict induction programs are always a good idea, but there’s little doubt that starting strong correlates with lower dropout and with finishing strong.
Going for the first few weeks with no results correlates highly with dropout. (What they should be doing is tweaking their existing program or trying something different, but infinite persistence and patience are not traits of most people and most people see temporary delay as permanent failure.)
Self-monitoring behaviors – of everything: body weight, diet and activity – are in the words of the authors, “cardinal behaviors of successful weight maintainers.” Chronic relapsers consistently overestimate how many calories they burn and underestimate how many calories they eat. Self-monitoring behaviors (tracking calories eaten, etc.) help prevent the under-reporting problem.
17. Body image and self esteem
Studies show that people with more concern for their shape and appearance successfully maintain a lower body weight. One research team called this a “healthy narcissism” about their appearance and physical condition. Another researcher said that pride in appearance has been found to be one of the four main factors facilitating weight maintenance.
Some people are understandably concerned at what point healthy narcissism becomes unhealthy. Cognitive psychologists have suggested that when you evaluate your self worth based on your body image (weight and shape) that is unhealthy. It’s important to disassociate you as a person from your weight and body shape. As I wrote in The Body Fat Solution, “body fat is not a person, it’s a temporary condition.”
18. Outcome expectancy
Managing expectations is important because on one hand, unrealistic expectations lead to disappointment and correlate to high dropout, but on the other hand, you can only rise as high as you set the bar. Researchers say that the best results come from a combination of realistic and positive expectations. Some researchers go further and suggest having “unrealistic optimism,” though the academic community considers that controversial.
My advice: Be realistic, especially on goal achievement time frames (deadlines), and expect that it’s going to take hard work, but set big goals and always EXPECT SUCCESS!
Tom Venuto, Founder & CEO,
Burn The Fat Inner Circle (www.BurnTheFatInnerCircle.com)
About Tom Venuto
Tom Venuto is a lifetime natural (steroid-free) bodybuilder, fitness writer and author of Burn The Fat, Feed The Muscle: Fat Burning Secrets of Bodybuilders and Fitness Models and the national bestseller, The Body Fat Solution, which was an Oprah Magazine and Men’s Fitness Magazine pick. Tom has appeared in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Huffington Post, Oprah Magazine, Muscle and Fitness Magazine, Ironman Magazine and Men’s Fitness Magazine, as well as on dozens of radio shows including Sirius Satellite Radio, ESPN-1250 and WCBS. Tom is also the founder and CEO of Burn The Fat Inner Circle – a fitness support community for inspiration and transformation