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Does Fear of Regaining Weight Keep You From Losing?

Fear of regaining weight and fear of failure are common.
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WebMD Feature

For most of her adult life, Linda Thacker, 60, of Norfolk, Va., had been heavy. When she got serious about weight loss, she did it up big.

Thacker, who is 5 foot 3, went from 227 pounds to 110. And for the past 16 years, she has kept it off.

"I did it by diet and exercise," she tells WebMD. The road wasn't always easy -- nor is it still -- and she coped with a giant fear in the beginning.

"I had a fear that I would put it right back on," she says. But Thacker, and countless others who have lost substantial amounts of weight, learned to face that fear -- and over-rule it. Weight loss experts say fears of failure and regaining weight are common, but there are ways to cope, succeed, and keep moving.

Fear of Regaining Weight: It's Common

Many people with a substantial amount of weight to lose have less than optimistic expectations when they embark on yet another weight loss plan, says Daniel Stettner, PhD, director of psychology, UnaSource Health Center, Troy, and adjunct professor of psychology, Wayne State University, Detroit, Mi. He often counsels patients about weight loss.

"They have a long history of dieting," he says. "They have multiple-size clothing in the closet. They frequently expect they will regain."

Part of the problem, Stettner says, is an attitude that needs adjusting. "There is often this generalized underlying belief [from the long-term dieters] that I am just perpetually dieting.' What we try to do is get them to see, OK those are your feelings and you own them. But we have to get you to buy into this lifestyle change." They aren't dieting so they can go on a cruise and indulge, for instance, he tells them.

To help quash the fear of regaining weight, Stettner advises people to separate emotions from the behavior. That means, in part, minimizing your feelings of deprivation -- and accepting the fact that it's a lifetime eating and exercise plan, not a diet and temporary workout plan.

To get to that point, Stettner asks people to list the reasons why they want to lose weight, and to be specific. One woman who loved to bake pies and eat them finally decided her fear of her diabetes worsening because of her weight was greater than her love of pies.

Simply using the word diet can instill fear of regaining in veteran dieters, says Edward Abramson, PhD, professor emeritus of psychology at California State University Chico, and a psychologist in Lafayette, Ca. He tells patients: "Let's try something different. Let's not go on a diet," says Abramson, who wrote "Body Intelligence," a non-dieting weight loss approach.

Instead, he says, "Let's figure out what is behind your eating." He has people keep a diary, figuring out when and why they engage in unnecessary eating, such as in response to stress even though they are not hungry. Then, they work to change the environment so they reduce unnecessary eating.

"For some, emotional eating is the real trigger [to overeating]," he says. He helps people look at the emotions but address it as a problem to solve.

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