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Mind and body

Want to lose weight and keep it off? Focus on behaviors, not numbers

Lavinia Rodriguez

Lavinia Rodriguez

By the looks of it, you have to focus a lot of attention on your weight if you want to lose weight.

Advertisements for weight-loss products or programs spotlight how much weight you can or should lose if you use a particular product. Fad diet ads proudly announce that weight is the issue and that their diet can help you drop those pesky pounds faster than anything else. When the subject of weight comes up in a group setting, the main emphasis is on the weight itself. "I need to lose 20 more pounds." "I can't seem to get these last 5 pounds off." "I should be able to lose 10 more pounds this week."

Even the health care industry seems to be saying that for weight loss the focus should be on the numbers themselves. "My doctor tells me that my ideal weight should be 170 pounds and I should be losing 2 pounds per week," John said. "I've been trying, but it's not working that way."

We certainly can't say that our society doesn't focus on weight. In fact, we're probably the most weight-focused society on the planet. Just about every weight-loss program out there encourages people to focus on their weight and reinforces that message with regular weigh-ins. By all accounts, if focusing on weight is what's necessary to successfully lose weight long-term, there should be large numbers of lean people walking around. Instead, we're told that obesity is an epidemic. Could it be that focusing on weight for weight loss' sake is not all it is cracked up to be?

The truth is that people who want to lose weight and keep it off should concentrate on the things they have control over and that directly affect weight. Your body controls the weight. It's already programmed to know what to do with your weight depending on what you do with your body. Eat less than your body burns and it uses stored fat for energy, making you thinner. Eat more than your body burns and it stores the extra calories as fat, making you fatter. Fixating on weight itself doesn't make your body do things differently. But if you concentrate on what, how and how much you eat, as well as how active you are, you can start to make a difference. Once behaviors that help the body burn fat become habits you can achieve permanent, instead of short-term, results.

When you place too much emphasis on weight (especially a specific number) and not enough on the behaviors that can help with weight loss you won't learn the good habits you need to be successful for the rest of your life.

There are many ways to lose weight, but they don't all lead to long-term success. If shedding weight or getting to a certain number on the scale is your sole goal, you're missing out on one big thing: the opportunity to learn good, long-standing habits. We all know that just because you lose weight doesn't mean you won't regain it. Shouldn't we focus on doing things that will help you lose weight and make you more successful at keeping it off?

So, why do people, as well as the dieting industry, continue to focus on weight more than the behaviors that affect it?

The answer is easy in regard to the dieting industry: money. The industry makes more money from return business than from successful one-timers. People in the dieting industry understand how humans think: By nature we are more attracted to things that promise unrealistically huge and immediate results, not things that take a while, even if the slower method is more effective in the long run.

People are still looking for the quick fix and the panacea even though it has been proved time and again that these don't exist when it comes to weight and fitness.

So what happens if instead you put your energy into adopting a daily exercise routine, being more active in general, eating primarily highly nutritious foods, eating frequent but smaller meals and eliminating processed and sugary foods? You guessed it. You will lose weight and become healthier, and fitter, accomplishing the same things you would have had your focus been on weight alone. And there's a bonus: You've changed your lifestyle to one you can maintain, so you can continue to stay fit and healthy.

Dr. Lavinia Rodriguez is a Tampa psychologist and expert in weight management. She is the author of "Mind Over Fat Matters: Conquering Psychological Barriers to Weight Management." Send questions to her at

Want to lose weight and keep it off? Focus on behaviors, not numbers 05/15/14 [Last modified: Thursday, May 15, 2014 6:27pm]
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