Mind Over Matter? Not When It Comes To Weight Loss

Pennie McCoy

CSIRO's Total Wellbeing Dietitian

Jan 18, 2023

Hard truth: losing weight requires changing your eating and exercise habits – and this can be a real challenge.

It’s easy to think that you need to be perfectly motivated, focused and positive to take on this challenge and see results. The good news, according to new research? You don’t.

It’s welcome news for those waiting for that “mythical perfect mindset”. Now, there’s no excuse not to put your health first – and there’s even some ways to make it easier.

New research from the CSIRO, Australia’s national science agency, has found that your mindset when starting a weight loss journey doesn’t define your ability to succeed.

weight loss

The analysis looked at the responses of nearly 11,000 Australians to a mindset survey done before completing the CSIRO Total Wellbeing Diet 12-week weight loss program.

It found that being in the right mindset when starting a diet was not in fact the strongest contributor to losing a clinically significant amount of weight.

Rather, engaging with the right digital support tools – think food and exercise tracking, and virtual support groups – had the greatest influence when hitting weight loss goals.

Perhaps the most interesting finding was that those with the lowest levels of motivation before starting the 12-week program not only lost an above-average amount of weight, but they also lost the most weight!

CSIRO Total Wellbeing Dietitian, Pennie McCoy said “Many people feel they have to be in the ‘right’ headspace to start eating well and exercising more. Waiting for this day to come can really hinder even starting the process.

“These findings are game-changing as they show that understanding your mindset when you begin is an important factor.”

Top tips for reaching your weight loss goals:

weight loss

Losing weight requires behaviour change, so set yourself up for success by leaning on tools and support networks, says Pennie:

  • Knowing what it takes to change your eating and exercise habits:
    • Learning the new behaviour
    • Focusing on setting realistic goals that motivate you in a positive way. For example, setting a target for vegetable intake, steps or a consistent bedtime to improve sleep
    • Implementing self-monitoring practices. For example, tracking food intake and exercise activity
    • Scheduling prompts to stimulate the desired behaviour. For example, smart phone reminders to pack your gym bag.
    • Having strategies for relapse prevention (anticipating setbacks, problem-solving, reflecting on what has and hasn’t worked.)
  • Access to tools to support you:
    • The CSIRO Total Wellbeing Diet offers a range of self-monitoring and educational tools to develop and keep up motivation levels during your weight loss journey. These include the food, exercise and weight loss tracker as well as its Positive Psychology tools.
  • Draw on social support and environment:
    • Support networks like family, friends or social media networks, are key to keeping us motivated and accountable. Think of trying to get motivated to go for a walk by yourself compared to meeting someone for a walk.
    • Other people can also be a source of education – sharing tips and strategies on how they’ve handled a barrier can help you to find a solution too.
    • The success and commitment we see amongst our CSIRO Total Wellbeing Diet Facebook group is incredible – they discuss their wins, their losses, and strategies to pick themselves up.

Find out more or complete the Diet Mindset survey by heading to www.totalwellbeingdiet.com 


By Pennie McCoy

CSIRO's Total Wellbeing Dietitian

Pennie McCoy is CSIRO's Total Wellbeing Dietitian with over 15 years of experience in a range of settings including hospital dietetics, research as well as corporate nutrition. She is passionate about empowering people to make healthier choices to meet their health and nutrition goals. She has been a media spokesperson for the CSIRO Total Wellbeing Diet and Digital Wellness with recent appearances on Sunrise, Today and A Current Affair.



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