Despite the number of weight management programs and their wide promotion, most overweight and obese individuals tend to lose weight on their own. This study sought to understand the characteristics and strategies of those who successfully engage in self-directed weight loss to facilitate the development of weight control plans that could empower other overweight and obese individuals with information and strategies to manage their weight on their own.
Men and women who had lost at least 5% of their body weight without using the support of professionals or weight management programs were recruited. Demographic data was collected by questionnaire and participants’ weight loss experience explored using semi- structured interviews to elicit in-depth individual experiences and perspectives. Iterative thematic method data analysis was used to generate themes describing contributing factors to the success of self-directed weight loss identified by participants.
Most characteristics of those who successfully self-managed their weight loss were in line with those reported by successful weight losers participating in professional-led projects. However, strategies such as quick embedding of new lifestyle behaviours into daily routine; the ability to learn from previous unsuccessful weight loss experiences; and not requiring social and family support were identified as distinctive factors that contributed to the success of self-directed weight loss by participant’s of this study.
Overweight or obese individuals with strong internal motivation, problem-solving skills developed from previous weight loss experiences, and self-reliance (not dependent on social support) are more likely to be successful at achieving self–directed weight loss. Patients identified with these characteristics could be encouraged to self-manage their weight loss process leaving places in more resource-intensive professional-led programs to those unlikely to succeed on their own.