Losing weight – a psychological perspective

If we travel away from calorific foods, we won’t be tempted. Photo by Emma Simpson on Unsplash

Losing weight is a common goal, but often ends in failure.  Why is this, and how can we harness psychological understanding to make it easier?


Firstly, why do we gain weight in the first place?  The basic reason is the calorie equation: if we eat 100 calories, but only use 80 calories to live, our body will store 20 calories as fat.

If we use less than we eat, we store fat. Photo by Artur Łuczka on Unsplash

This is evolutionary genius, enabling us to store energy for when we need it later.  Because it was relatively scarce thousands of years ago, we have a preference for quick-energy food.

We gain weight because modern society provides us with more easy food energy than we can reasonably use up by exercising.  Psychologically, we are programmed to binge on high-calorie foods, so we automatically continue to shovel them into our mouths, despite the fact that our lifestyles don’t use up the extra energy.  Our body has no choice but to store the excess energy as fat.

We eat easy food, and our body has no choice but to store it as fat. Photo by amirali mirhashemian on Unsplash

Excessive eating is therefore a totally understandable and natural modern habit, given our circumstances.  We don’t need to beat ourselves up about it.  But if we want to lose weight, we do have to find a way to make it easy to eat less energy than we use.


Secondly, what strategies can we use to lose weight?

  1. USE HABIT AND ROUTINE.  Psychologically, habit and routine have greater power than inspiration and extreme action.  This is why crash diets crash, and moderate diets often succeed.  The best way to diet is to develop a lifestyle with habits and routines that limit calorie intake.  Develop the authentic life you have in a sustainable way, rather than ditching it for a pretend new life which will probably crash, requiring you to start again with no foundation.
  2. SHIFT TO LOWER-CALORIE OPTIONS.  Sugar and salt are powerful attractors – that’s why food companies use them to fool us into buying their products.  We can gradually shift our food choices to less calorific ones (for instance, shifting to fruit and veg).  Generally speaking, our taste will follow the change, and we will ‘need’ less sugar etc.
  3. MOVE MORE.  Every time we move, we use up energy.  We are also usually in transit between locations, meaning that we have less opportunity to eat food.  Service stations are on to this, and try to sell us high-calorie foods while we travel.  So it’s best if our movement is in woods, country paths – anywhere where the calorie-peddlers are not.
Service stations provide easy food, encouraging us to eat while driving. Again, more calories in, fewer out. Photo by Jack B on Unsplash

In summary, we shouldn’t be extreme, but instead should adapt and improve our existing routines, replacing our existing food with less calorific alternatives, and replacing our existing travel methods with less lazy alternatives.


The benefit of modern technology is that it gives us ways to manage our routines (online diaries), and ways to become aware of our food and exercise choices (calorie-based apps).

Calorie-based apps make us more aware of our choices.

If we are not technologically-minded, then we can use third-party services to support our lifestyle changes.  These could include services that send us a pre-chosen set of meals each week, and personal training services that wrap us into exercise routines.  A warning: we should be aware that this is outsourcing our own decision powers, and we could become over-reliant on the third-party service.


My body is holding fat because I have eaten more energy than I have used.  The modern world is set up to trick me into doing this.  It tempts me with high-calorie foods, and encourages me to sit down and eat them, without moving around enough.

I will be aware of the foods I am eating, and choose less calorific alternatives.  I will also be aware of my journeys, and choose to walk, run and cycle more.

I will use my diary to plan for better food, and better travel.  I may use an app to monitor calories in and calories out.  I may also use certain food and exercise programs to support my plans.