Study: Reasons for weight loss affect success

by Kalani Simpson, UNMC public relations | March 12, 2019

Image with caption: From left, Patricia Hageman, Ph.D., Joseph Mroz and Carol Pullen, Ed.D.

From left, Patricia Hageman, Ph.D., Joseph Mroz and Carol Pullen, Ed.D.

With spring approaching, is your New Year's resolution to lose weight losing steam?

A new study from an interprofessional team of UNMC researchers has found that the reason why you want to lose weight may be a major determinant of whether you actually end up doing so.

In fact, most significantly, they found that women who were highly motivated to lose weight in order to look better for themselves were more likely to have gained weight by the close of the two-and-a-half-year study period.

The study, published recently in Health Psychology Open, is the latest chapter in UNMC's "rural women's health" research project, led by principal investigator Carol Pullen, Ed.D., professor, UNMC College of Nursing and Patricia Hageman, Ph.D., Linder Professor for Women's Health in the UNMC College of Allied Health Professions.

The multidisciplinary team behind the series of community-based clinical trials has had backgrounds in nursing, physical therapy, nutrition and extension education.

But this time, Drs. Pullen and Hageman also brought in Joseph Mroz, a Ph.D. student at the University of Nebraska at Omaha in UNO's industrial and organizational psychology department. He studies the relationship between motivation and meeting goals.

Mroz ran the numbers to see if different motivations - the reasons why these women wanted to lose weight -- were associated with any particular outcomes.

At the outset of the study, participants were asked a series of questions to gauge their motivation among three categories:

  • They were motivated to lose weight for health-related reasons (to reduce their numbers, decrease risks, be generally healthier, etc.);
  • Motivated to lose weight for their appearance in relation to others (so people will think better of them, they'd have more friends, to meet society's expectations, etc.);
  • Or, motivated to lose weight for their appearance in relation to one's self (to feel more confident, be more attractive, or even to fit into those old pants again).

You'd think wanting to improve your own health would be the best motivation, and wanting to make other people happy would have the least lasting impact, right? Turns out, no.

Only "appearance to self" moved the needle, but perhaps not in the way expected.

Being least motivated by appearance to self "uniquely predicted" a weight loss of at least 5 percent by study participants -- making it the only (lack of) motivation that led to "clinically significant" weight loss.

This suggests, "the reason for the motivation may be more important in general than the intensity of the motivation," the study found.

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Maureen Oberdorfer
March 13, 2019 at 9:01 PM

Glad you're continuing to seek and find the answers for womens' health! Keep up your good work. I'm proud that I worked with you in the "early" days of this research. Maureen Oberdorfer

Laura Bilek
March 12, 2019 at 6:46 AM

Wonderful work!