Motivations Behind Weight Loss: A Closer Look

by Daisy

Key Takeaways:

A majority of individuals with overweight or obesity are actively trying to lose weight or have attempted to do so at some point.

Health concerns and a desire to change physical appearance are common motivations for weight loss.


Experts emphasize that while diet and exercise can aid weight loss, there are often uncontrollable factors involved.


A recent Verywell Health survey reveals that many individuals with overweight or obesity cite health concerns as a primary motivation for wanting to lose weight.


In a survey of 2,000 people who identify as larger-bodied, fat, overweight, and/or obese, 74% reported currently trying to lose weight, and 89% have attempted to do so at some point in their lives. General health concerns motivated nearly half of the respondents, while 26% were driven by appearance-related reasons. Additionally, 14% aimed to address specific health issues like high blood pressure.

Respondents also expressed a desire to enhance self-esteem, avoid body-related comments, increase energy, and be healthier for their children. These findings suggest that while health is a significant motivator, it’s not the only one. Notably, 53% of respondents considered themselves in good or very good health, highlighting the influence of societal pressures and personal circumstances.

The Complex Motivations for Weight Loss

Silvana Pannain, MD, an associate professor of endocrinology at the University of Chicago, explained that weight loss motivations are varied and complex. Typically, patients seeking treatment fall into two categories: those concerned about their health and those who have tried everything to lose weight without success.

The Role of External Pressure

Two-thirds of survey participants had been advised by a healthcare provider to lose weight. Among these, one-third were told to lose weight due to a current health condition, while half were warned of potential health risks. However, 22% reported that their doctor simply advised weight loss without providing a specific reason. Despite this, most respondents felt their doctors were attentive and trusted their advice.

Conversely, weight loss suggestions from family and friends were less appreciated, with one-third finding these comments unhelpful, even if well-intentioned.

Impact of Motivations on Weight Loss Success

Beverly Tchang, MD, an assistant professor at Weill Cornell Medical College, noted that the motivation behind weight loss efforts can significantly affect outcomes. Those driven by a desire to be healthier for loved ones or due to a serious medical issue may be more motivated to succeed. However, Pannain emphasized that biological factors, such as hormonal imbalances, can hinder weight loss efforts, regardless of motivation.

Research indicates that higher levels of the hormone ghrelin and leptin imbalances can promote hunger and slow metabolism, respectively, making weight loss challenging for some individuals. This is where new weight management drugs, like Wegovy and Zepbound, come into play, helping control appetite and blood sugar levels.

Efficacy of Modern Weight Loss Medications

Newer weight loss medications have shown promising results. GLP-1 receptor agonists, such as Wegovy, and dual agonists like Zepbound, have significantly outperformed older medications, with substantial percentages of users achieving notable weight loss. However, only 21% of survey respondents had tried prescription weight loss medication, with millennials being the most likely to do so.

Tchang highlighted the importance of combining medication with lifestyle changes, noting that while diet and exercise are foundational, additional treatments can enhance weight loss success. Clinical trials indicate that lifestyle changes alone often result in modest weight loss, underscoring the need for a multifaceted approach.

Survey Methodology

Verywell Health conducted the survey online from January 29 to February 7, 2024, involving 2,016 U.S. adults who identified as overweight, obese, fat, larger-bodied, or a person of size. The sample was balanced using U.S. Census Bureau benchmarks for region, age, race/ethnicity, and household income. Special thanks to Daphna Harel, PhD, for her consultation on survey development and analysis.


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