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This article provides a perspective on why weight loss should NOT be our primary focus - even for obesity related conditions. Instead we should set process focused goals.

Why is Focusing on Weight Loss Unhelpful?

Simplified, increased fat mass is a by-product of an imbalance between energy intake and energy expenditure. An imbalance between how much fuel you're putting into your body and how much it's using. This energy imbalance itself can be a result of a range of influences, such as:

  • mental health

  • limited support

  • lack of understanding

  • chronic health conditions

  • physical environment

  • financial constraints - the list goes on...

The root causes of being overweight are often complex, so our outcome measure, and what we base our progress on, should look much broader than just "weight loss". We now know the importance of looking at processes rather than outcomes when setting goals and creating new habits.

Unfortunately, fat mass and body composition have been given value outside of energy storage and human physiology. Social constructs of body weight mean that, for many individuals, body composition can go hand in hand with negative self-perceptions, low confidence and poor mental health. Feeling pressured to look a certain way is unfortunately something most people experience in their life.

Instead of focusing on how much we weigh, our starting point should be ensuring we are:

  • sleeping well

  • moving well

  • moving regularly

  • referring to our pillars of health - exercise, sleep, mental health, nutrition.

Shifting the focus away from fat mass, which can be linked to negative self perceptions, to process based goals can benefit wellbeing and improve our outcomes.

What Are Processed Focused Goals?

‘Process focused goals’ are tasks, or processes, you can complete to help you achieve an overarching goal. For example:

  • Go for a 20min walk each morning.

  • Make 3 adjustments to practice healthier eating habits.

  • Stand up and have a movement break every 30min when working.

Research supports this ‘process focused goals’ approach. A study done by Freund and Hennecke in 2012 found that focusing on the process rather than the desired outcome of weight loss actually resulted in increased weight loss, increased adherence and less deviation from the health intervention and improved wellbeing. Linde et al (2004) also observed that program-specific goals demonstrated greater association with weight loss than outcome goals for a desired BMI.

Weight monitoring definitely has its place in the management of specific conditions, such as heart failure (fluid retention monitoring). But for a large majority of us, setting process related goals (like going for 20min walks each day) are shown to have a larger effect on weight loss anyway, and can help take the stigma of body composition out of the equation. Research has shown that setting exercise goals to help with your weight can also have major additional positive effects for your health, including:

  • improved muscular strength

  • cardiovascular fitness

  • lung function, cognitive function

  • mental health

  • balance

  • coordination

We know it's not always simple, but that's why you have us. Please contact us if you would like to know how our team of allied health professionals can assist you in managing your condition and helping you set and meet your health goals.

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