RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—Size matters, sure. But a new study proves that the perception of size might matter just as much—at least when it comes to weight loss.
THE DETAILS: Researchers from the Department of Preventive Medicine at Rush University in Chicago used data from a large study that tracked the risk of heart disease in young adults first recruited in 1985–1986. Over the course of the subsequent 20 years, researchers noted the participants’ age, sex, race, height, weight, and body mass index (BMI, based on your height and weight); what the participant perceived to be her body size (each person pointed to a silhouette of a figure she thought looked the most like herself); what the participant ID’d as her ideal body size; and a rating of the difference between the two, which the researchers refer to as “body size satisfaction.”
What they found was that obese women who perceived themselves as obese (an accurate self-perception) gained less weight annually than obese women who thought of themselves as normal weight (an inaccurate self-perception). And obese women whose ideal body size was “overweight”—in other words, neither slim nor obese—gained less weight annually than those whose ideal body size was a slimmer “normal weight.” “Our strongest finding was that obese women who perceive themselves to be much too big—which they are, from a medical perspective—maintain their weight better over time,” says lead study author Elizabeth Lynch, PhD.
WHAT IT MEANS: Perception matters. A lot. “Self-perception seems to be very important to weight maintenance,” notes Lynch. “Obese women who face the fact that their bodies are much too large for optimal health are better at stopping weight gain—and may even lose weight.” Which suggests that size denial creates further weight problems, she adds, probably because people in denial aren’t able to start setting goals to change their behavior.
Here’s how to use the power of perception to maintain your weight as you age: