The psychology of losing weight

In theory, everything is very simple, but why are the rates of obesity are still growing?

At the heart of human behaviour there are two mechanisms. The first is the desire to receive a “reward”, that is, to feel good. The second is the desire to avoid “punishment,” that is, not to feel bad.

All the problems of losing weight are in the conflict between a quick reward (lack of discomfort of hunger) and a long-term reward (good health and a beautiful body). A person always chooses what brings pleasure NOW.

Gambling, sex, smoking, alcohol, drugs, fat and sweet food – all of that a great example of quick reward system. It is pleasant, fun and makes us to feel good very quickly. With constant self-nourishment, pleasure quickly decreases, so people have to stimulate themselves again ang again. 

Rewards and punishments.

Human behaviour is a complex topic, but for simplicity, you can think of a reward as everything that makes you feel good: eat something sweet, do something pleasant or not do something unpleasant. Generally speaking to do smth to avoid discomfort.

Punishment is what makes you feel bad. It is to be hungry, to train painfully, not to be able to eat what you are used to.

We strive more often to receive a reward and less often – punishment. If training makes you feel better, and we like it, we will train  more and more often. If trainings are too heavy, lead to soreness, fatigue, then they will act as punishment, and we will avoid them.


An example

You ate at night, and in the morning woke up and felt fat, swollen. It seems that this is a direct quick punishment immediately after the action (eating at night). It seems that when you see this, as a punishment you will stop doing what caused it – stop overeating at night. But this is not happening. In a situation of overeating at night, the first thing we get is the reward – the pleasure of eating. Punishment is late in relation to immediate reward.

That’s why some pretty terrible approaches to treating addiction to alcohol or drugs  make people instantly feel terrible. This is an attempt to associate behavior with instant punishment. If a cookie instantly makes you nauseous, you will stop eating it and generally avoid it. But this is a so-so method.

For people who don’t like workouts, the same thing. Skipping a workout and changing it to a movie evening is an instant pleasure and reward. “Punishment” – health problems, a fat body  – may not occur for many years.

For people, it is much easier to get a small piece of happiness right now, without thinking about the future.

What to do with it?

The problem is that losing weight must go through some short-term deprivation (punishment) in order to achieve the desired goal (reward) in the future. And this is the exact opposite of what would be the ideal option. Ideally, the reward should come immediately, and any punishment would be delayed or did not happen at all.

If we know that our goals are further than rewards, and that we discount the long-term benefits, setting only long-term goals is a recipe for disaster. Tell someone who is overweight that he should not eat cakes for a year until he reaches the goal – and the failure is right there,What will happen in a year is unknown, and the cookies are already here.

So the solution might be here > Set one goal for today. One – for the week. One – for a month, for 3 months, 6 months and a year.

A strict regime for a year without a break is not possible psychologically, and a diet for 6-12 weeks is a more feasible task.

Another strategy is to find a way to get a quick reward. The reward of something tasty is a logical choice. This can work if it is controlled: one candy before going to the gym, and not a double cheeseburger after a workout, because you did a good job.

Sometimes the so-called cheat meal is practiced – one “allowed” meal per week, when a person can eat everything he dreamed about. 


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