Originally posted April 10, 2014 by Kelly Carpenter, PhD on www.ebn.benefitnews.com

Everyone who has pursued a traditional employee weight loss program knows that results can be unpredictable. Usually, enough employees succeed in losing weight to give the program value. The problem is they often gain it back. While programs are going in the right direction, clearly there is room for improvement.

Today’s advanced weight-loss programs deliver that improvement, providing more uniform and sustained results by leveraging behavioral change science. The most successful of these programs include the following three key behavior-change ingredients as a foundation for maximum weight-loss impact.

#1: Focus on long-term motivators rather than short-term

The near-term events that often spur people to think about losing weight – a wedding, a cruise, a high school reunion or a financial incentive – all quickly come and go. As the event passes, so does the motivation, and a return of old behaviors almost always means a return to previous weight.

In contrast, long-term motivators endure, enabling the individual to sustain weight loss without needing an incentive, because they discover the personal value a healthier lifestyle brings to life.  For instance, when an employee is motivated to lose weight to enjoy a more active life with a spouse, children or grandchildren, that employee is on a more sustainable path to successful weight loss.

#2: Address underlying cognitive, emotional and biological barriers to sustained weight loss

The underlying reasons why some employees just can’t seem to lose weight vary from individual to individual. One employee may have a habit of sneaking a donut in the break room and then thinking “I’ve blown it for today and may as well have one more.” Another employee may have periods of work-related stress that trigger the urge for comfort food. There are dozens of additional behavioral patterns as well as personal weight loss history and biological factors that make losing weight extremely difficult, if not impossible, if not addressed.

Programs that include individualized coaching can provide the specific interventions needed to support behavior change. Health coaches can help an employee overcome the discouragement involved in sneaking a donut by guiding the employee to take a positive action, such as reducing the corresponding calories from the rest of the day’s consumption. Or they can encourage the stressed employee to counter anxiety with a healthy response, such as taking a walk or calling a friend. So it goes for additional behaviors that run counter to weight loss. The key is personalized assistance to help every individual succeed.

#3: Position a more intensive weight loss program as an option within a larger wellness program

Wellness programs − though important to guide employees to better lifestyle habits and establish healthy workplace cultures − do not address the complexities of obesity. That’s why it is important for wellness programs to include an evidence-based weight loss program as an option for people with serious weight issues. Once employees do lose weight, the wellness program can equip them to sustain weight loss by focusing on overall wellbeing as an alternative to a lifetime of on-and-off dieting. Giving employees the best practices and skills needed to achieve and maintain lifelong health can work wonders toward helping formerly obese employees become more fit for life.

As the U.S. obesity epidemic has grown, studies have consistently documented the positive financial outcomes realized when employers respond with solid weight loss programs. By reducing the risks of both diabetes and heart disease, obesity reduction delivers health care savings that contribute significantly to the bottom line. Add employee health and well-being benefits that promote sustained weight loss, and it’s a win-win for everyone involved. That’s why it is imperative to offer a weight loss program, and to make sure it includes the three key ingredients that can optimize the results.