The Predictors of Successful Weight Loss

Discover which factors, including expectations and goals, help predict weight-loss success.
The Predictors of Successful Weight Loss

When scientists study a particular health-related condition that applies to a group of people, it is often helpful to find common characteristics, also called predictors, to better understand and treat individuals within the group. Predictors, taken alone, do not guarantee an individual's outcome with complete accuracy. They can be helpful, however, to understand the vulnerabilities that a person faces in overcoming a health-related problem and to focus behavior-change efforts to those areas most likely to make a positive difference.

When it comes to weight management, predictors have been summarized for both initial weight loss and sustained weight loss.1 For initial weight loss, some of the predictors are high self-confidence; participation in a weight-loss program; continued participation in a weight-loss method; being physically active; using behavior modification techniques, like self-monitoring and goal setting; and having social support. In one study, initial weight loss success was associated with such factors as doing different kinds of exercises or planning meals ahead of time.2 These predictors carry through for sustained weight loss and a few more are added, including having a positive coping style; continued contact with those who supported the initial weight loss; improved health measures, and developing a "normal" eating style that includes increasing vegetables, fruits, and low-fat dairy.3 An evaluation of data from a weight loss maintenance trial found that fewer attempts to lose weight and greater weight loss in previous attempts were associated with more successful outcomes.4 Also associated with maintenance are a diet with low-fat sources of protein, a consistent exercise routine, self-rewards, and motivational reminders.4

Risk Factors Identified
Just as there are predictors of weight-loss success, there are risk factors linked with a lack of success. Two that have been consistently found by a number of investigators deal with the number of dieting attempts made and expectations at the start of a weight-loss effort. A history of repeated attempts at weight loss has been linked with both a higher likelihood to drop out of a weight-loss program and a lower amount of weight lost if the program is completed.5 Additionally, individuals with lower self-efficacy, less frequent record keeping, and stress related to measuring weight were shown to be less successful at maintaining loss.6

Expectations & Success
The relationship between expectations going into a weight-loss attempt and subsequent success is an interesting one. Described as curvilinear, both those who begin weight loss with a very accepting attitude (i.e., would be happy with minimal weight loss) and those with unrealistically high expectations lose the least amount of weight. The most weight loss is found among those with moderate expectations.7 Those who have moderate or high levels of expectation regarding thinness also may be more prone to weight cycling.8

Many people start a weight-loss program full of optimism and strong feelings of self-confidence. While confidence is linked with weight-loss success, it needs to be moderated with realistic expectations.

Without feasible goals concerning the amount of time and effort needed, the rate of weight loss, and benefits to be gained with self-change, a self-determined assessment of failure can occur. Applying lessons learned from previous dieting attempts that were derailed by this false hope syndrome can be instrumental in achieving lasting weight loss.9

view footnotes

The Weight Watchers Approach:

The Weight Watchers approach is designed around the predictors of long-term weight loss. Each of the predictors of weight-loss success - from setting realistic goals to developing positive coping skills - is represented.


Other Science Library Topics:

1Institute of Medicine. 1995. Weighing the Options: criteria for evaluating weight-management programs. National Academy Press, Washington D.C.

2 Champagne CM, Broyles ST, Moran LD, et al. Dietary intakes associated with successful weight loss and maintenance during the Weight Loss Maintenance trial. J Am Diet Assoc. 2011 Dec;111(12):1826-35.

3 Myers VH, McVay MA, Champagne CM, et al. Weight loss history as a predictor of weight loss: results from Phase I of the weight loss maintenance trial. J Behav Med. 2012 Aug 21.

4 Sciamanna CN, Kiernan M, Rolls BJ, et al. Practices associated with weight loss versus weight-loss maintenance results of a national survey. Am J Prev Med. 2011 Aug;41(2):159-66.

5Teixeira PJ, Going SB, Houtkooper LB, Cussler EC, Martin CJ, Metcalfe LL, Finkenthal NR, Blew RM, Sardinha LB, Lohman TG. Weight loss readiness in middle-aged women: psychosocial predictors of success for behavioral weight reduction. J Behav Med 2002 Dec;25(6):499-523.

6 Nakade M, Aiba N, Morita A, et al. What behaviors are important for successful weight maintenance? J Obes. 2012;2012:202037.

7Teixeira PJ, Going SB, Houtkooper LB, Cussler EC, Metcalfe LL, Blew RM, Sardinha LB, Lohman TG. Pretreatment predictors of attrition and successful weight management in women. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord 2004 Sep;28(9):1124-33.

8 Olson EA, Visek AJ, McDonnell KA, DiPietro L. Thinness expectations and weight cycling in a sample of middle-aged adults. Eat Behav. 2012 Apr;13(2):142-5.

9Polivy J. The false hope syndrome: unrealistic expectations of self-change. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord 2001 May;25 Suppl 1:S80-4.