Expectation, fantasy, and weight loss: Is the impact of positive thinking always positive?

Abstract

We investigated the impact of expectation and fantasy on the weight losses of 25 obese women participating in a behavioral weight reduction program. Both expectations of reaching one's goal weight and spontaneous weight-related fantasies were measured at pretreatment before subjects began 1 year of weekly group-treatment. Consistent with our hypothesis that expectation and fantasy are different in quality, these variables predicted weight change in opposite directions. Optimistic expectations but negative fantasies favored weight loss. Subjects who displayed pessimistic expectations combined with positive fantasies had the poorest treatment outcome. Finally, expectation but not fantasy predicted program attendance. The effects of fantasy are discussed with regard to their potential impact on weight reduction therapy and the need for further studies of dieters' spontaneous thoughts and images.

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We thank Lori Kuznar, Kathy Letizia, Anand Lotte, Kim Shah, and Angelika Lengfelder for their assistance in gathering and analyzing the data. Peter M. Gollwitzer and Fritz Strack made valuable comments on an earlier version of this manuscript. This research was supported by fellowships from the German Research Foundation and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, Health and Behavior Network, to the first author and by a National Institute of Mental Health Research Scientist Development Award to the second author.

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Oettingen, G., Wadden, T.A. Expectation, fantasy, and weight loss: Is the impact of positive thinking always positive?. Cogn Ther Res 15, 167–175 (1991). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF01173206

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Key words

  • fantasy
  • expectation
  • obesity
  • weight reduction