Scientists Explore Why Motivation is the Key to Weight Loss

Motivation is one element of weight loss and keeping fit that is not talked about enough. If you have no motivation, chances are you’re not going to stick with your weight loss program.

Scientists Explore Why Motivation is the Key to Weight Loss So how do you find motivation?

Many people these days find motivation and support through an online weight loss community. These are great resources for diets and workouts, but also offer a community of people undergoing weight loss that share similar experiences and can make the journey that much easier. It’s also a great way to meet people in your area that you can meet up with for support and to swap stories or to set up group activities.

Other people seek out personal trainers, knowing that having an appointment with a professional is almost impossible to get out of and when you know there’s someone there tracking your progress, it’s even harder to cheat – it makes you want to succeed.

Others rely on the community at their gym to get them motivated, knowing that if you miss a day, someone will notice.

Joining a running or walking group is another way of staying motivated. You could even band together your own group of friends and family and get them involved.

For most of us, there’s also that motivating element of self-esteem and looking at yourself naked in the mirror – that will always set you back on track. These are what they call autonomous and controlled types of motivation.

In a recent study out of the Universities of Kentucky and North Carolina, these two types of motivation were studied on an online weight loss group of 66 over a 16-week period. Participants measured their progress by answering a Treatment Self-Regulation Questionnaire based on autonomous and controlled types of motivation. This questionnaire took the place of a journal, which is itself a motivational exercise, recording weekly food intake, exercise and body weight and baseline measurements every four weeks.

Autonomous motivation is driven by intrinsic and extrinsic controls and the individual’s belief in performing well and wanting to change for personal reasons.

Controlled motivation is driven by only external controls like peer pressure and guilt.

The researchers divided the group into those who had lost 5% of body weight by the end of the 16 weeks (37 people) and those who had not lost that much (29 people). The scientists found that those who had lost a lot of weight at the beginning by the 4-week baseline measurement were more motivated than those who had not lost as much. Scientists speculate that this was due to the face-to-face interview at the beginning of the study (controlled motivation) and their early success with weight loss (autonomous motivation).

“These findings suggest that building motivation may be an effective means of promoting adherence and weight loss.”

Those who showed higher levels of motivation at the 4-week period were driven by autonomous motivation and were more likely to stick to their journaling. In addition, this form of self-monitoring increased motivation and resulted in more a successful rate of weight loss.

“It appears that the time period between 4 and 8 weeks may be an important window for weight control programs to consider using techniques designed to enhance autonomous motivation, including giving more intense support or different types of interventions, such as activities to enhance autonomous motivation or contact from a weight-loss counselor in the form of e-mails, phone calls, or face-to-face meetings.”


Elsevier Health Sciences. “What’s motivation got to do with weight loss?.” ScienceDaily 26 April 2010. 27 February 2011 <­ /releases/2010/04/100426092757.htm>.



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