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There's no couple advantage when it comes to weight loss

A study from the University of Connecticut has explored the influence of grit and self-control on weight loss, specifically among couples

“Grit” is a term which refers to resilience and persistence toward long-term goals. In previous investigations, it has been established that possessing grit and self-control generally result in superior weight management outcomes. 

However, the dynamics of these characteristics within couples undergoing weight loss had not been previously explored.

Focus of the study

Professor Tricia Leahey, the director of InCHIP, commented on the goals of the study. 

“We wanted to see if there was any sort of effect of couples. That is, do partners have similar levels of self-control? And, does self-control change similarly in couples over time when they’re in a weight loss program?”

The research was focused on a couples-based weight management intervention that involved 64 couples during a six-month intervention followed by another six-month follow-up. 

How the research was conducted 

To gauge participants’ self-control and grit levels, they completed questionnaires at the beginning and conclusion of the research. 

These questionnaires included statements like “I am good at resisting temptation” and “setbacks don’t discourage me.”

The behavioral weight loss program encouraged participants to lower calorie consumption and elevate physical activity. This program also offered training in behavior modification techniques such as goal setting and stimulus control.

What the researchers learned 

Surprisingly, the study’s results revealed no discernible “couple effect.” Initially, couples did not demonstrate similar grit or self-control levels. 

Furthermore, if one partner enhanced their grit or self-control throughout the study, it wasn’t a given that their partner would experience a similar evolution.

“While couples tend to share weight management behaviors, this study found that there wasn’t any social influence between the couples when it comes to self-control or grit,” said Leahey. “Instead, these are more individual characteristics.”

Improving self-control 

Nevertheless, despite not targeting the enhancement of self-control and grit directly, participants generally displayed progress in these areas during initial treatment.

“That suggests that both constructs are malleable,” said Leahey. “Sometimes people think of self-control as something that doesn’t change. But this study goes to show that, with a behavioral weight loss program that teaches behavior change strategies, we can improve people’s self-control or goal pursuit.”

As expected, the researchers found that participants with greater self-control and grit demonstrated better weight management outcomes. 

Weight loss maintenance 

Such characteristics correlated with essential practices like consistent exercise and self-weighing. Notably, grit was pinpointed as a significant factor for maintaining weight loss.

“Weight loss maintenance is a major challenge in obesity treatment,” noted Leahey. “The fact that we saw that grit was associated with weight loss maintenance, suggests that targeting grit may improve long-term maintenance outcomes.”

Study implications 

Future research might look into bolstering individuals’ grit or persistence in achieving goals to enhance weight management habits. 

Leahey also suggested that potential studies could lessen the dependence on self-control and grit through modifying the environment. 

“Our environments tend to be obesogenic in that there are a lot of high-calorie, low-nutrient foods and significant opportunity for sedentary behavior,” said Leahey.

“Because of this, it’s not surprising that we have high rates of overweight and obesity. By modifying our environments, we can make it easier for people to lead healthier lives and not have to exercise as much self-control and grit.”

The research is published in the Journal of Behavioral Medicine.

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