How To Lose Weight And Maintain It: A Perspective From a Psychologist

Many people know what they ‘should’ be doing to lose weight. So why is it so hard to lose weight and importantly STICK at weight maintenance? Here are some common hurdles I see people falling into when they’re trying to lose weight and then maintain it.

*Please note, these suggestions are targeted to people who are MOTIVATED to lose weight but for whatever reason are struggling to do so. If you’re still in the CONTEMPLATION or even PRE-CONTEMPLATION stage of losing weight, that’s a whole other blog!! This blog is also not intended for people who are struggling with eating disorders including anorexia or bulimia.

Be realistic with your expectations for weight loss.

In attempting to lose weight, it is often unhelpful to just focus on long-term goals. I see people falling into the trap of “right I need to lose 30kg” but sooner or later the prospect becomes so daunting that they lose focus. Instead, set realistic signposts: focus on achieving a loss of 5kg and then re-evaluate how you feel and keep going from there.

Weight loss is not a race.

Too often I talk to people with the mentality of ‘all I need to do is be good for 6 months’. What results from this ‘all-or-nothing’ mindset is often a trap called ‘The Diet Cycle’. Please follow this link to learn more about this viscous cycle that helps explain yoyo dieting.

Food is not the enemy

It sounds so clichéd but the saying ‘everything in moderation’ is essential for long-term success of weight loss and maintenance. There is NO SUCH THING AS BAD FOOD. Mindfully enjoy that piece of cake slowly, appreciating the presentation and taste… just don’t have that piece of cake every day.

Accountability versus Obsession

Accountability is essential for weight loss and long-term maintenance. However, ‘danger signs’ of throwing in the towel with weight loss are frequent ‘checking behaviours’ such as daily weigh ins, obsessive mirror checking and skin fold clutching.

On that note, daily weigh ins are often an unreliable sign of progress anyway due to the many variables involved in the reading: fluid retention, constipation, hormones (including stress), muscle mass… and the list goes on. I recommend weighing yourself just once a week to keep you accountable but reduce the trap of obsessing. Remember to look for other signs of progress: clothes size, body composition, fitness, mobility, bloods, blood pressure, and importantly behavior change (such as saying no to the 3rd drink).




Harsh criticism of your efforts (“You’re still fat, it’s not working, you’re ugly”) also commonly leads to giving up in weight loss. It may be helpful to be more compassionate with your efforts so far and look at what you’ve achieved rather than what you’ve been ‘doing wrong’. Also, ask yourself “what would I say to a dear friend if they came to me struggling with weight loss and body image?” and apply the response to YOU.

Impulse control

Know the difference between physical hunger and head hunger. Head hunger often is a reflection of an overactive reward pathway in our brain that releases the ‘pleasure hormone’ dopamine when we’ve enjoyed eating a particular food (usually high calorie). Repetition of dopamine release structurally alters the brain, helping to explain poor impulse control. ‘Head hunger’ can also come from a state of boredom, procrastination or simply just habit. To help reduce ‘head hunger’:

  1. Delay second helpings/snacks. Wait another 15mins after a meal, have some water and mindfully engage in another activity. Usually by this time the urge will have at least decreased to a manageable level.
  2. Ask yourself “I can have this if I really want… but will this benefit me, how will I feel after eating this”?
  3. Remember impulse control is easier if we’re not staving. Eat 5 small meals a day to ensure your blood sugar levels are relatively stable and decrease the likelihood of impulsive eating in the afternoon when we’re typically more fatigued.




Sleep is obviously very important for our body’s homeostasis but it is also essential for weight loss. When we are sleep deprived a few things happen:

  • Logic thinking and impulse control decreases and therefore more likely to respond on urges (Macca’s run)
  • The levels of hormones that regulate appetite are significantly influenced by sleep duration. Sleep loss is associated with an increase in appetite that is excessive in relation to the energy we actually require when we’re awake.


When we’re under acute stress, Adrenalin, is released to engage the ‘fight-flight-freeze’ response which actually suppresses appetite. However, when stress is prolonged another hormone- cortisol- is released that actually increases appetite. Of course, overeating isn’t the only stress-related behaviour that makes weight loss difficult. Stressed people also lose sleep, exercise less, and drink more alcohol, all of which can contribute to excess weight.


Firstly, if you are struggling with mood management, stuck on the diet-cycle, sleep deprived or you are seeing some of those danger signals, it may be a good time to see a psychologist.

Secondly, even if you think you have a good level of knowledge on healthy eating, it may be helpful to check in with a dietician. Your dietician will be able to specialize a plan to suit YOU and your body. Remember- we’re all different. You don’t need a GP referral to see a dietician however, it may be helpful to chat to them about options.

Lastly, if weight loss has been a long-term battle for you, it may also be helpful to check in with your GP regarding thyroid functioning. An underactive thyroid will make losing weight very difficult due to the slowing of your metabolism.


Catherine Waight

Clinical Psychologist

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