Do making habits or breaking habits influence weight loss and weight loss maintenance?

Gina Cleo, Dietitian and PhD Scholar.

More than two-thirds of the population is currently on some kind of weight loss program. The unfortunate thing is there seems to be an inevitable weight regain with almost all lifestyle interventions- that’s every diet, every exercise regime and even every pill. In fact, we regain 40% of the weight we lose in the first year after losing it and much of the rest in the following 3 years.

About half of our everyday behaviour is automatic and habitual which means we’re not completely conscious of the decisions that made us partake in that behaviour. We generally sit in the same place to have dinner, eat the same breakfast, eat at similar times of day -not necessarily when we’re hungry.

Gina Cleo

We actually make over 200 food decisions everyday- it’s the ones we make subconsciously that are invariably hindering our weight loss success.

Gina Cleo, Dietitian and PhD Scholar at Bond University conducted a Randomized Controlled Trial with 75 participants to evaluate the efficacy of two psychological concepts suggested to be the most plausible explanations to this overwhelming lack of long-term weight loss success, and compared them to a wait list control.

The first program is ‘Ten Top Tips’ which promotes the formation of new habits. Therefore, healthy diet and exercise related behaviours are performed without awareness or deliberation, like tying your shoe lace or brushing your teeth. They simply become habits.

The second theory is ‘Do Something Different' which promotes the breaking of habits. This program disrupts daily routines by assigning an individual with unstructured tasks to perform. The aim of doing something different is to create more mindfulness as an individual becomes more intentional and less automatic in their behaviour.

The programs ran for 12 weeks with a 12-month follow-up period.

The research results showed an average weight loss of 4.7kg (SD = 0.5kg) on both interventions. 12-month post-intervention data showed a further 1.3kg weight loss (SD 1.15kg) in participants in both interventions. Considering people on lifestyle programs generally start to regain the weight they’ve lost straight after the program finishes, these habit-based programs have displayed quite promising results after 12 months of no treatment and no contact.

The findings from this study show that by changing the habits that define us we can potentially succeed at long-term weight loss.


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