Weight Perception

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cropped-graphic-e1423682891979.jpgVolume 12, Number 1

Sometimes the most correct answer to a question such as, “Is this better or is that better?” is “yes.” That is, there may not be one right answer because often things aren’t either/or. This can be the circumstance with certain health behaviors, and is the case in the realm of weight management.


For a number of years, persons trying to lose weight have been advised to not weigh themselves too often, that is, no more than weekly. Daily weight can fluctuate slightly for a number of reasons, so it was argued that weighing too often can provide imprecise information. However, studies are indicating that persons who do weigh themselves daily actually do better with weight management. Therefore, daily weighing is now advised. It is thought that more frequent feedback from the scales better helps people stay on track with their behavior, so that a tick up on the scales may result in more prompt behavior modification.


The recommendation to weigh oneself daily when focusing on weight loss or maintenance is consistent with the principle that awareness is the first step in behavior change. If one isn’t aware of any need to change behavior, change is unlikely.


Based upon this principle, it would seem that people who perceive themselves as being overweight would be more likely to lose weight. However, because there is stigma associated with being overweight, and because there is clear evidence of discriminatory behavior toward overweight individuals, psychological distress can and often does occur with perceiving oneself as overweight (and especially with the perception of weight discrimination). Increasingly, research indicates that the perception of being overweight is actually associated with more overeating, rather than weight loss. A recent publication in the International Journal of Obesity reported that the analysis of three longitudinal studies conducted in the United States and the United Kingdom found this counter-intuitive pattern.


Studies comparing the effectiveness of some of the best-known dietary plans for weight loss indicate that adherence to the regimen, whichever plan is followed, is the key factor in achieving weight loss. This isn’t to suggest that the composition of one’s diet is unimportant, but rather that the most effective plan for a given individual desiring to lose weight is the plan that the individual is willing and able to follow.


In the realm of weight management, focusing on data rather than on conclusions may be a useful strategy. Examples of data are: “I only walked 10 minutes today” or “I had five servings of produce today” or “My weight increased slightly over the past few days.” Examples of conclusions are: “I’m still fat” or “I’m lazy” or “I have a lousy diet.” To focus on data rather than conclusions requires careful monitoring, which is consistent with the principle that awareness is the first step in behavior change. Habitual healthy behavior is the overriding goal, and arguably is the most important factor in weight management.



Paul J. Hershberger, Ph.D.

… is a clinical health psychologist. He is Professor of Family Medicine and Director of Behavioral Science for the Family Medicine Residency Program, Wright State University Boonshoft School of Medicine. His clinical practice includes psychotherapy, consultation, and coaching.




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phone: (937) 734-6851

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