Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Weight Loss

Posted: Oct 19 in Weight loss, Weight Management Strategies by
woman walking outside

When I was in middle school, I have vivid memories of my psychiatrist father (who also happened to compete in and complete 13 separate Ironman Triathlons, but that’s another story…) telling me that if I didn’t run at least 3 miles, I would not be allowed to have dinner.

As a good kid, I would run the three miles, but I quickly developed a distaste for running, and as I got older, stopped running completely. I really detested it.

I see this a lot with people wanting to lose weight. A loved one, friend, relative, or even a physician tells the person “You need to lose weight.” Usually this is coupled advice such as, “Try to eat a little bit less and go to the gym more often.” Unfortunately, this typically has the same effect as my loving dad telling me to run more – it is an extrinsic recommendation – being told what to do often leads to resentment and a refusal to comply.

Conversely, as a college student, I gained the obligatory freshman fifteen (although rumor has it this has ballooned to the freshman thirty these days). I recognized that this was causing me trouble – I couldn’t keep up in sports, I was huffing and puffing trying to ski, and my cholesterol was shooting up. Plus, I wanted to look good and go out on dates. As a sophomore, I decided to start running again and joined the gym at my college. I also started to be more careful with choosing healthier foods at the college cafeteria. This was not because my father told me to, but because I wanted to be fit, lean, strong and healthy.

Similarly, for individuals wanting to lose weight, when it is intrinsically motivated, we see high rates of success. When the person tells me “I’m doing this for me. I want to be healthy, lean and strong,” then we see tremendous weight loss success.

When embarking on a weight loss journey, the most important element is why are you doing it? Make a list of the top 3 things you hope to achieve through weight loss. Ideas could include:

  • I want to improve my health.
  • I want to look better.
  • I want to have less joint pain.
  • I want to have more energy.
  • I want to be able to keep up with my children / grandchildren.
  • I want to ski / hike / etc.
  • I want to fully participate in life.
  • I want to travel more comfortably.
  • I want to live longer.
  • I want to lower my risk of a cancer recurrence.

These types of reasons persist during and after weight loss and will enhance your odds of success.

Why do YOU want to lose weight?

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