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The #1 Worst Weight Loss Mistake You Can Make, Psychology Expert Says

The Chief Scientific Officer at WW (formerly Weight Watchers) shares one key secret to long-term success.

Dropping pounds itself isn't an easy undertaking, but the psychological journey toward weight loss is arguably an even greater challenge. The Chief Scientific Officer at WW (formerly Weight Watchers) is a clinical health psychologist who's out with a new book to help you reframe your mentality around weight loss so you'll have better chances it'll work for good. Here's the one factor that he says best serves anyone on a weight-loss and wellness journey.

Gary Foster, Ph.D., has studied the psychology of obesity and weight loss throughout his career. Keep reading to learn about one of the main themes in his new book, The Shift: 7 Powerful Mindset Changes for Lasting Weight Loss (St. Martin's Press).

RELATED: Learn more about WW's new WW PersonalPoints™ Program to help you stay on track with your weight loss goals here.

The Shift

Courtesy of St. Martin's Press/Macmillan

In The Shift, Foster identifies one hope that many dieters set out with on their weight loss journey. "Everyone is focused on what and how to eat. I get questions like, Can you really eat bacon and lose weight? . . . What foods start my metabolism in the morning? . . . People often want to be told what to eat."

But, he says, "The component is your mindset."

young woman looking at shelf of sauces appearing confused at grocery store
Shutterstock / antoniodiaz

Foster says his career has taught him that when you frame weight loss around what to eat versus what not to eat, in your mind, this can set you up for a win or lose situation.

If you think losing weight is about having the willpower and discipline not to eat a lot of foods that bring you pleasure—and then you eat them, because you're stressed or busy or you're having a tough day on your diet—you've created a scenario where it's only natural to let yourself down.

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Here's the key to a successful journey, he says.

Senior African American Couple Exercising In Park

In The Shift, Foster says he often asks this question at WW workshops: "What's the single most important tool for success on the weight-loss journey?"

He shares that many participants respond with answers that make losing weight sound hard, such as "Persistence," or answers that highlight their current  shortcomings, suggesting that they themselves are not eating enough healthy foods or exercising as much as they should.

Instead, Foster gives his answer that he's found to be essential to weight loss success: "'Self-compassion,' I say."

He explains what this means: "Considering yourself worth taking care of. An outlook that frames things not as failures but as chances to learn and grow."

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Some data on self-compassion and weight loss…


Foster points to "extensive research" that shows self-compassion is one of the most important elements of staying fit long-term. He quotes Gary Bennett, Ph.D., professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke University and specialist in obesity treatment.

Bennett says: "Clinically, patients who do well over the long-term—four, five, 10 years—are those who are basically able to put into practice self-compassion skills."

Next, here are a few more links that might inspire that spirit for you…

For more on self-compassion and the psychology of weight loss:

woman walking in a forest

A few more articles to inform your journey:

Adele Finally Reveals Her 4 Weight Loss Secrets for Shedding 100 Pounds

20 People Explain Exactly How They Lost 20+ Pounds This Year

The Final Verdict on Adding Lemon Juice to Your Coffee for Weight Loss, Says Dietitian

The Best & Worst Greens to Eat—Ranked by Nutritional Benefits

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Krissy Gasbarre
Krissy is a senior news editor at Eat This, Not That!, managing morning and weekend news related to nutrition, wellness, restaurants and groceries (with a focus on beverages), and more. Read more about Krissy