False hope syndrome

We are all familiar with the annual devotion to New Year’s Resolutions, an attempt to regain control over some aspect of our lives. Weight loss and exercise are likely among the top resolutions, but unfortunately they also likely appear on the same person’s list year after year. While perseverance is certainly an admirable trait in some settings, it is most definitely an indicator of failure in this situation. The cycle of repeated failure and renewed effort has been coined the “false hope syndrome” by Polivy and Herman in their article titled “If at first you don’t succeed. False hopes of self-change” [Am Psychol. 2002 Sep; 57(9): 677-89]. They question why people persist at further attempts at self-change in light of the initial failures, and offer possible explanations for this phenomenon:

-Expectations are too high

-Results are expected too early

-Results are expected to be attained too easily

-Ability to make said changes is overestimated

-Unreasonable expectations for how the changes will improve one’s life

The consequences of “false hope syndrome” are potentially devastating, as individuals will start to play the “blame game” – against the diet, against the value of lifestyle changes, against themselves, etc. There will probably be a new diet, new exercise program, new strategy to be embraced at the New Year, but high likelihood of failure again if continuing with the same attitude and expectations.

Knowledge is key, and this site is just one of countless resources for gaining a better understanding of strategies for weight loss. I encourage you to do research before getting frustrated with your fitness plan; understand what kinds of results could reasonably be expected for someone in your situation. Nothing good comes easily, but the results are well worth the effort. Unsure of the source, but this quote sums it up:

Pain is temporary; pride is forever.”


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