New research may reveal a new value-centric way to approach weight loss
People looking for the magic pill of weight loss without exercise may have found their answer: writing about their most important values. In a new study titled “The Role of the Self in Physical Health: Testing the Effect of a Values-Affirmation Intervention on Weight Loss,” published in Psychological Science, women who wrote about their most important values, like close relationships, music, or religion, lost more weight over the next few months than women who did not.
“How we feel about ourselves can have a big effect,” study author Christine Logel of Renison University College at the University of Waterloo says. “We think it sort of kicks off a recursive process.” Maybe when one of the women who wrote about an important value went home that night, she felt good about herself and didn’t eat to make herself feel better. Then the next day snacking wasn’t as much of a habit, so she skipped it. Over a few months, that could make a real difference in her life.
The study analyzed 45 female undergraduates with a body mass index of 23 or higher (a BMI of 18.5 to 24.9 is considered normal for women); 58% of the women were overweight or obese. Each woman was weighed, and was then given a list of important values, like creativity, politics, music, and relationships with friends and family members. Each woman ranked the values in order of how important they were to her. Then half the women were told to write for 15 minutes about the value that was most important to her. The other half, a control group, were told to write about why a value far down on their list might be important to someone else.
The women came back between one and four months later to be weighed again. Women who had written about an important value lost an average of 3.41 pounds, while women in the control group gained an average of 2.76 pounds.
“We have this need to feel self-integrity,” says Logel, who cowrote the new study with Geoffrey L. Cohen of Stanford University. It’s too soon to say whether this could work for everybody but the results are promising. “My dream, and my research goal, is to get this to the point where people can do it deliberately to benefit themselves,” Logel says.
Logel, for her part, carries a keychain that reminds her of an important value. “There’s certainly no harm in taking time to reflect on important values and working activities you value into your daily life.”