School of Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences


5 Mar 2021

Three ways behavioural psychology might help you lose weight

There’s no shortage of weight loss programmes out there to choose from, each of which claim to have the key to shedding pounds. One of the latest popular weight loss programmes out there is Noom, which claims that behavioural psychology is the key to helping people lose weight for good – including those who haven’t had success in the past.

Behavioural psychology aims to understand why we behave the way we do and analyse patterns in our actions and behaviours. Using it to aid weight loss means understanding the many factors that influence weight gain, such as easy access to unhealthy foods. This can help us make changes to prevent this from happening.

Although one study has looked at Noom’s effectiveness when it comes to weight loss, it’s still difficult to say whether it’s more successful than other similar programmes in aiding weight loss. But we do know from a wide body of research that many behavioural psychology techniques can be used to help people successfully lose weight.

1. Goal setting 

Many weight loss programmes start by asking people to set a goal. And research indeed shows that creating this “intention” actually motivates you to change your behaviour.

And this is true no matter if your goal is to lose a certain amount of weighteat healthier or to exercise more. But since physical activity on its own is unlikely to cause a significant amount of weight loss, a combination of goals may be most effective in keeping people motivated and helping them reach their goals.

But how many goals should a person set? One study found that frequent goal setting means that you’re more likely to implement changes, which ultimately means you’re more likely to lose weight. However, there’s no concrete evidence of the exact number of goals to be set.

Previously it was thought that goals had to be specific – for example, aiming to lose one pound a week until you’ve lost twenty pounds altogether. But more recent research suggests this may not true – with data showing goal setting is effective even if the goals are vaguely defined (such as aiming to be more active, rather than aiming to run for ten minutes everyday).

The jury is also still out on whether goals should be large or small. But one review that looked at goal setting for behaviour change concluded that goal setting was effective when goals were challenging, set publicly, and was a group goal. While only 6% of the studies in this review were about weight loss specifically, other research has found that people who have large goals (such as losing 20kg in three months) lose more weight than those with smaller goals (such as losing 5kg in the same time frame). The same has been found for goals relating to physical activity – showing how important setting goals is.

2. Self-monitoring... 

Dr Claire Madigan, a Senior Research Associate in the School of Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences, reveals three ways behavioural psychology might help with weight loss in the Conversation.

Read the full article here