The Daunting Challenge of Motivation

Not that long ago, The Huffington Post published Dr. Pretlow’s “Eating Addiction: There’s an App for That,” which mentions a subject that inspires a lot of thought among researchers and health professionals:

Lack of motivation appears due to fear of withdrawal symptoms and fear of losing a major coping mechanism (eating).

At first blush, the motivation for wanting to achieve a healthy weight should be obvious — so obvious that the answer lives right there in the question. To be healthy is good, and to be unhealthy has many undesirable consequences. The co-morbidities associated with obesity are well known, especially the specter of type 2 diabetes which claims more and more victims every year.

Yet people comport themselves as if none of those bad outcomes could possibly intrude into their lives. A great deal of self-delusion goes on at the adult level, but why can’t we expect better from the young, who historically have been eager to revolt against societal norms and established ways?

Today, the societal norm is overweight, and the established way is to consume as many negative-nutrition calories as possible. We eat stuff that not only fails to provide nutrients, but fills us with toxins that cause resource-consuming inflammation and illness.

That is how we really are. But with the astonishing human capacity for cognitive dissonance, we are also obsessed with appearance. Who doesn’t want to be slim and agile? Who doesn’t want to look good in clothes and attract favorable attention from potential love objects?

Why would anybody put up with being overweight? It seems like a no-brainer. But motivation is a vast mystery. Why doesn’t it show up more often? Why doesn’t it affect more people? Why is it so elusive and so ready to disappear when we need it most?

Let’s look at a couple of demotivational mindsets. Email from a Childhood Obesity News reader says:

Sometimes I wonder if I let myself get fat as a political statement. In Los Angeles, where a beautiful body is almost a requirement, I get a bad attitude about that.

Valerie, in a comment to a blog post, spoke of how she had once lost 100 pounds and then regained weight. But the attitude of some people, when she shed a large amount the first time, demotivated her from trying to repeat the accomplishment. She recalled being disillusioned by the realization that, although she had remained the same person inside, they only found her worth talking to because she was slim. Her feeling was that:

[…] the idea of having people negate the last ten years of my life as worthless or bad because of my weight is just too soul crushing to even think about for too long.

That same article, which basically concerned actor and TV personality Ricki Lake, also elicited thoughts from a reader called Charmaine. who said that she had been eating for 47 years in an attempt to enlarge her rear end. She wrote:

I stare at women in the grocery store with enormous butts. All I want is to look like them, ya know, curvy. I think larger women are beautiful and I know it’s true cuz when I see them I look at their ring fingers and yep… [M]y point is proven.

Sadly, try as she might, Charmaine found that added weight would settle only on her belly and back, her arms and legs, and under her chin — but refused to migrate to her posterior. No matter how crazy a person’s ambition may sound to outsiders, internally the crushing disappointment is a universal emotion.

While organizing one of the pilot studies for W8Loss2Go, Dr. Pretlow received an application from a 10-year-old girl who weighed just over 200 pounds. It was soon followed by a letter from the girl’s mother saying that her daughter had changed her mind. The mom wrote:

I told her from the start that I thought this was a wonderful opportunity. but it was strictly up to her, she now doesn’t want to be part of it. I’m disappointed…

Needless to say, Dr. Pretlow was disappointed too. Research has shown that on the “Quality of Life” scale, obese children rate about the same as kids with cancer. The thought that a little 200-pound girl would pass up such a potentially life-changing opportunity is almost unthinkable — and yet it happened. Dr. Pretlow says:

Motivation is huge issue with this age group. Figuring out how to motivate them to truly try is the daunting challenge.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Eating Addiction: There’s an App for That,”, 09/11/2015
Source: “‘I Can’t Believe I Was A Fat Person,’ Says Ricki Lake,”, 12/02/08

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OVERWEIGHT: What Kids Say explores the obesity problem from the often-overlooked perspective of children struggling with being overweight.

About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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