What are some ways to motivate people to lose weight?

People are motivated by a variety of reasons to lose weight. Some of my patients tell me that they want to lose weight so they can keep up with their grandchildren. Others say it is because they are tired of being out of breath all the time or they really want to fit into that special pair of jeans. And many others are concerned for their health and want to reduce their risk of heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. So, for whatever the reason, it is my job to help them!

I first try to assess whether or not the patient is even ready to change/take on new eating habits. I have had many patients that were sent to see me by their doctor or spouse and they obviously had no interest in listening or taking my advice to make dietary changes. In these instances I do try to find out what may be stopping the patient from taking steps to lose weight. Is it simply that the patient does not think his or her weight is a problem? Is the patient afraid of failure or afraid that he or she will have to give up all his or her favorite foods forever? If you can identify the stopper you may be able to get the patient to open up and listen. On the flip side, if I sense that the patient really does want to listen and make changes in his or her life, then I start by trying to find out what the motivating force is for this change. Once you know the motivating force, it will be easier to give nutrition advice geared towards that motivation for the patient.

Now I need to build rapport with my patients. Ellen Glovsky, PhD, RD, LD says that a registered dietitian should remember that there is a “dual expertise” going on between them and the patient. The RD is the “expert” in what the patients ought to do but the patient is the expert in what is important to them and what exactly is possible to fit into their lives. In my early days as a RD, I would give a list of things that the patient “should” do in order to lose weight. I realize now that was not the best way to go about it. So I began really listening to the patient and I began using different words when offering patient advice. I tried to replace “you should” with “you may consider” and “several of my patients have found”. I also try to make each of my suggestions attainable. People may get motivated to try to lose weight if they realize that they will not have to change their entire life around and won’t have to avoid all of their favorite foods.

Another motivating force is accountability. If a patient knows that she is going to check back in with me she may be more thoughtful about choosing high calorie/fat snacks or going back for seconds. Accountability could also be having a workout friend. If you know that your partner is meeting you at the gym it may motivate you to go so you do not let them down.

Different things motivate different people. If you are trying to motivate someone to lose weight make sure they know you care about them, lead a healthy lifestyle yourself and most importantly…listen to them!

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