Successful Psychosocial Profiles in Maintaining Weight Loss

With two-thirds of the United States population either overweight or obese, much attention has been paid to dieting and weight loss in recent years.

So-called “miracle” diets abound: low carb, high protein, Paleo, and low fat remain illustrative. In general, most diets promise a quick fix to America’s obesity epidemic, and most who attempt these diets may lose weight in the short term, but often individuals come away feeling defeated and frustrated after attempting these diets.

In most cases, sole focus has been centered on the diet itself rather than the individual. Could this be part of the answer?

A 2014 study published by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) titled, “Clues to Maintaining Calorie Restriction? Psychosocial Profiles of Long-term restrictors,” suggests that emphasis ought to be placed on “. . . a personalized behavioral [NIH’s emphasis] medicine model in behavioral nutrition and treatment of overweight/obesity.” In other words, the psychosocial profile of the individual should be considered when implementing weight-loss interventions.

The Calorie Restriction (CR) Way

One proven method of losing weight is reducing the total amount of calorie intake. To paraphrase Michael Pollan, author of more than half a dozen food-related titles, all of the debate surrounding low or reduced this or that might be avoided if individuals simply just ate less in general. Formally, this method is known as Calorie Restriction (CR). Although there are several approaches to CR, the goal remains the same: eat less.

One may protest: “But are there certain personalities who are more prone to success with this method?”

According to the NIH study, the answer is an unequivocal “yes.” For starters, the psychosocial profiles of successful calorie restrictors have high self-control and are stronger with future-time orientation. This means that they tend to focus on long-term future goals. Most interestingly, too, remains the finding that “. . . the participants’ eating-related thoughts and behaviors did not indicate eating disorder pathology.” Participants of the NIH study had, in other words, a healthy relationship with food and did not have an eating disorder.

As mentioned, there are various CR approaches, but the general idea is to take in fewer calories overall. Some CRs, for example, dramatically cut calories—up to 50 percent—and after an initial weight reduction, the amount of calories cut lessens and increases slightly. Also, bear in mind that it takes roughly 3,500 calories to create one pound of weight gain, so, for instance, to lose five pounds, it requires a reduction of 17,500 calories (assuming no physical activity is taking place).

On its face, a reduction of 17,500 to lose five pounds appears to be a herculean task, which remains one reason why so few individuals stick to losing weight over the long term. So, as the NIH authors suggest, perhaps there remains something deeper to losing weight than just will power. Perhaps, one reason why some individuals stick to it and why some don’t is because of their psychosocial profile.

A Way toward Successful Dieting?

Successful long-term dieters are, indeed, rare. And the dieting industry—a strange mix of self-proclaimed experts and gurus—usually does more harm than good with its cacophony of conflicting advice, methods, and products. The best approach may be to stick to recommended guidelines and exercise in moderation.

The aforementioned advice may seem easy and straightforward, so why does losing weight seem like an impossible task for most people?

Perhaps, the answer lies in an individual’s psychosocial characteristics as the NIH research suggests. Genetics, too, plays a role, but that remains outside the scope of this article. As the NIH authors write: “To understand why CR might be unsustainable for many seeking weight-loss, a critical step is identifying individual differences underlying long-term restriction.”

So, looking forward, perhaps the future of dieting, weight-loss strategies and interventions may be tailor-made for individuals based on his or her individual psychosocial characteristics. As the evidence begins to accumulate, individualized diet strategies may appear to answer the seemingly age-old question: Why do some people stick to losing weight and others do not.


Balancing Calories. (2014, January 15). Retrieved April 12, 2015, from I in Calorie Balance

C. Incollingo Belsky, A., S. Epel, E., & Janet Tomiyama, A. (n.d.). Clues to Maintaining Calorie Restriction? Psychosocial Profiles of Long-term restrictors. National Institutes of Health, 79, 106-112.

Brooke Lamberti

Brooke Lamberti is a content writer based out of Scranton, Pennsylvania. She received a Bachelor of Science in Psychology from Marywood University, and has prior career experience working in social work and domestic violence advocacy. She has a passion for writing and helping others.

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