Can’t Wait To Lose Weight? Then You May Not Understand The Problem

weight scale helpDelayed reward discounting is a psychological phenomenon where we tend to see more value in a small immediate reward than in a larger reward promised later (simply put, would you prefer to receive $100 now or rather have $1000 at the end of the year?). In health terms, this may mean something along the lines of, “Would you rather have those extra fries with that, than not have a heart attack 20 years from now?”

Now, a study by Seung-Lark Lim and Amanda Bruce, published in Appetite developed a temporal discounting measure based on weight-loss rewards, that works similar to the more commonly used monetary reward discounting methods.

Both Monetary Choice Questionnaire (MCQ), and an adapted weight version of the MCQ with weight loss as the reward, were administered to healthy young adults, who also completed self-reports that measure obesity-related cognitive variables.

Not surprisingly, the participants who expressed a desire to lose weight, did indeed discount weight-loss rewards over time (which incidentally correlated with their temporal discounting of monetary rewards).

More interestingly, the authors also found that higher temporal discounting for weight loss rewards (i.e., preference for immediate weight loss) as associated with beliefs that obesity is under obese persons’ control and largely due to lack of willpower.

In other words, the more someone believes that body weight is under their control and simply a matter of willpower, the less willing they are to patiently wait for it to happen – even if a slower rate of weight loss may in the end lead to greater weight loss (which it unfortunately does not).

These findings certainly explain the reason why the weight industry does well to promise rapid weight loss – even when chances for long-term success may be remote.

It is clearly in their interest to promote the idea that anyone can be at any weight they chose and losing weight is simply a matter of willpower (or ponying up the dough).

Copenhagen, DK

ResearchBlogging.orgLim SL, & Bruce AS (2015). Can’t wait to lose weight? Characterizing temporal discounting parameters for weight-loss. Appetite, 85, 8-13 PMID: 25450897