When most people think about weight loss, they immediately think of diet and exercise. The mistake with that perception is that it ignores the underlying causes that may be the reason for obesity in the first place. An article in The British Journal of Health Psychology described perfectly why weight loss is such a struggle: “The behavioral analysis of weight loss management is complex. Food intake and physical activity are affected by a complex system of interacting societal, policy, community, social, economic, and individual factors.” (Sniehotta, Simpson, & Greaves, 2014) Because success is hinged on so many factors, losing weight can be a difficult process. It helps to see the big picture in order to succeed.
The Link Between Psychology and Weight Loss
I believe that many people have an unhealthy relationship with food that began in childhood, which relates to B. F. Skinner’s reinforcement theory. “Behaviorist B.F. Skinner derived the reinforcement theory, one of the oldest theories of motivation, as a way to explain behavior and why we do what we do.” (Redmond, 2016, September) According to McLeod (2015),
Skinner showed how positive reinforcement worked by placing a hungry rat in his Skinner box. The box contained a lever on the side and as the rat moved about the box it would accidentally knock the lever. Immediately it did so a food pellet would drop into a container next to the lever. The rats quickly learned to go straight to the lever after a few times of being put in the box. The consequence of receiving food if they pressed the lever ensured that they would repeat the action again and again.
That scenario may sound familiar since it is how many parents reward children for good behavior. When a child acts favorably they get a treat, usually in the form of food. We learn young to relate food with behavior, and this becomes ingrained in us. As adults, we often reward ourselves with food, thus contributing to our unhealthy perception of looking at food as an indulgence instead of nourishment.
Image retrieved from http://www.goodfoodmama.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/Weight-Loss.png
The video below offers reasons why understanding psychology is a main factor behind successful weight loss. According to Katherine Nordal, PhD, “When asked which strategies are essential to losing weight and keeping it off 44% of the psychologists in the survey said understanding and managing the behaviors and emotions related to weight management is an essential factor in addressing weight loss.” (American Psychological Association, 2013, Feb 20)
Vermont’s Answer to the Fight Against Obesity
Obesity is a wide spread epidemic across the country. According to the State of Obesity (2015), “Vermont’s adult obesity rate is currently 25.1 percent, up from 17.0 percent in 2000 and from 10.7 percent in 1990.” The following image shows a steady increase from the years 1990 to 2012.
In Franklin County Vermont, a program called RiseVT was founded in order to not only get a handle on the fight against obesity, but to also make positive change for the future. The video below offers a quick introduction to the program. (Rise Vermont, 2015, February 23)
When I interviewed Jonathan Billings, Vice President of Planning at Northwestern Medical Center, which funds RiseVT, I learned about a program that has been instrumental in my own journey of successful weight loss.
Q. What is RiseVT and what prompted its creation?
A. Every three years a community health needs assessment is done. Obesity was the number two concern in our region. From that came the idea for RiseVT, which is a community collaborative to embrace healthier lifestyles and improve the quality of life.
Q. What are the main focuses to help people reach their goals?
A. We focus on engaging in physical activity and making better nutrition choices. More importantly, we want to make the healthy choice the easy choice.
Q. How do you believe the social aspect of RiseVT helps people stay consistent?
A. The program is based on a social ecological model starting with the individual. We also work behind the scenes to affect the other models. We gear activities toward families because if the individual doesn’t have support of their family they won’t succeed. We also work with schools and businesses to make sure there are healthy choices in cafeterias. We encourage physical activity so we look into whether or not there are sidewalks or walking paths available.
Q. I’ve seen online that the program offers the use of a health coach. Are these health coaches trained in aspects of psychology?
A. We have one formal health coach and a team of special advocates made up of partners and volunteers. They come from varied backgrounds and training. Mostly stemming from physical activity and nutrition. Though through our partnerships we can connect people with other professionals if that is what they need. We have a multitude of systems in place in order to help people be successful.
(J. Billings, personal communication, November 18, 2016)
My Experience Utilizing RiseVT
I first heard of RiseVT from a Facebook post. I had been concerned about my weight and overall health since having twins in 2015. Nutrition and exercise had never interested me, but as a thirty-six-year-old woman with four children it was time to work for it. Since I couldn’t afford a gym membership at the time, I vowed to use the free tools online that were provided to help me reach my goals. After taking an online health assessment, I set my personal goals for weight and physical activity and was given a target number for daily calories. The most beneficial aspect for me personally was the social connection. Each day when I logged onto Facebook I saw a motivational post. At work I saw my friends and community members joining in as well. This program helped me to lose 25 pounds, gain more energy, and improve my overall health.
It is clear that the support of RiseVT has helped many individuals, families, and communities make better choices for their health. Being surrounded by like-minded people and having the support of a group makes a crucial difference. Having all the tools to help you succeed in one place is invaluable. By recognizing that the journey of weight loss is a mental and physical challenge, RiseVT has a positive effect. I hope after seeing the progress made in Franklin and Grand Isle counties that this program eventually expands statewide.
Image retrieved from https://www.facebook.com/RiseVT/photos/a.903718119672693.1073741827.9037017130076
American Psychological Association. (2013, Feb 20). This is psychology: Episode 11 weight loss [Video File]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yaYyAICZ1nI
McLeod, S. A. (2015). Skinner – Operant conditioning. Retrieved from http://www.simplypsychology.org/operant-conditioning.html
Redmond, B. (2016, September 19). Reinforcement theory. Retrieved from https://wikispaces.psu.edu/display/PSYCH484/3.+Reinforcement+Theory
Rise Vermont. (2015, February 23). Rise VT trailer [Video File]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JS3jBXhVRAY
Sniehotta, F. F., Simpson, S. A., & Greaves, C. J. (2014). Weight loss maintenance: An agenda for health psychology. British Journal Of Health Psychology (3), 459. doi:10.1111/bjhp.12107
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APA cite in text as: (Rich, 2016)
APA cite in full References as: Rich, A. (2016). The mental challenge of weight loss: How RiseVT can help you achieve success. Vermont Psychology. Retrieved from http://wp.me/p4elXk-vw
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Alissa Rich: I grew up in Bridgewater, MA and have lived in Swanton, VT since 2012. Now I consider them both home. My boyfriend was born and raised here and I was amazed how quickly I made friends and was welcomed into the community. I am first and foremost a mother, it is my most important and fulfilling job. I have four children ages 18, 9, and almost 2-year-old twins. I have survived unthinkable losses in my life, and yet I have taken these obstacles and learned from them. I have become stronger than I ever thought possible. This is when the power of the mind began to intrigue me. As much as I have endured, I have been equally blessed. I am currently a student at CCV enrolled in the Allied Health Preparation Program and my plan is to continue onto the nursing program at VT Tech next fall. I hope to someday be a nurse in the NICU. I work at Northwestern Medical Center as a care companion. Besides spending time with my family, if I have free time I love to lose myself in books.