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Motivation, self-determination, and long-term weight control

Pedro J Teixeira1*, Marlene N Silva1, Jutta Mata1, António L Palmeira2 and David Markland3

Author Affiliations

1 Interdisciplinary Centre for the Study of Human Performance, Faculty of Human Kinetics, Technical University of Lisbon, Lisbon, Portugal

2 University Lusófona of Humanities and Technologies and Interdisciplinary Centre for the Study of Human Performance, Faculty of Human Kinetics, Technical University of Lisbon, Lisbon, Portugal

3 School of Sport, Health and Exercise Sciences, Bangor University, UK

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International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity 2012, 9:22  doi:10.1186/1479-5868-9-22

Published: 2 March 2012

Abstract

This article explores the topics of motivation and self-regulation in the context of weight management and related behaviors. We focus on the role of a qualitative approach to address motivation - not only considering the level but also type of motivation - in weight control and related behaviors. We critically discuss the operationalization of motivation in current weight control programs, present a complementary approach to understanding motivation based on self-determination theory, and review empirical findings from weight control studies that have used self-determination theory measures and assessed their association with weight outcomes. Weight loss studies which used Motivational Interviewing (MI) are also reviewed, considering MI's focus on enhancing internal motivation. We hypothesize that current weight control interventions may have been less successful with weight maintenance in part due to their relative disregard of qualitative dimensions of motivation, such as level of perceived autonomy, often resulting in a motivational disconnect between weight loss and weight-related behaviors. We suggest that if individuals fully endorse weight loss-related behavioral goals and feel not just competent but also autonomous about reaching them, as suggested by self-determination theory, their efforts are more likely to result in long-lasting behavior change.