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Posted on Thu, Jan 3, 2013 : 10:18 a.m.

Researchers: Your New Year's weight loss resolution may hinge on perception

By Kellie Woodhouse

Losing weight: It's an age-old, oft-repeated New Year's resolution.

Yet University of Michigan researchers may hold the key to a successful completion of the resolution this year.


Yet University of Michigan researchers may hold the key to a successful completion of the resolution this year.

It's all (or mostly) about perception.

A U-M faculty member studied populations across five countries and found that if people believe obesity is primarily caused by overeating, they're more likely to be thin. Those who believe being overweight is primarily caused by a lack of exercise are more likely to be overweight, according to Brent McFerran, a marketing professor at the Ross School of Business.

McFerran's research was published in the journal Psychological Science.

According to McFerran's findings, the beliefs a person holds predict how that person will approach the goal of weight loss. In short, people who believe obesity is caused by diet consume less food.

The problem, McFerran said, with that is that people tend to overestimate the amount of calories burned during exercise and underestimate calories in the food they eat.

For example, a 20-ounce venti Java Chip Frappucino from Starbucks contains 580 calories. It would take the average person four hours to walk it off, according to a news release about the study.

Anirban Mukhopadhyay, a marketing professor at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, coauthored the report.

Kellie Woodhouse covers higher education for Reach her at or 734-623-4602 and follow her on twitter.


Kellie Woodhouse

Fri, Jan 4, 2013 : 2:10 p.m.

Here's another U-M researcher talking to Michigan Radio about the importance of perception when completing New Year's resolutions. She's saying think of exercising as something that will benefit you immediately versus something that will benefit you down to road.


Fri, Jan 4, 2013 : 2:39 a.m.

It may be true that eating less will result in you being thinner, but it is not the only component to overall health. I know many people that manage to stay thin just by watching what they eat, but that doesn't necessarily mean they are more healthy than someone "bigger" than they are. It works the opposite way too: I know many heavier people who could out run many of their thinner counter parts.

Nicholas Urfe

Thu, Jan 3, 2013 : 7:43 p.m.

Those with weak wills should just step aside - My steely resolve to eat at Blimpy Burger shall not waiver!


Thu, Jan 3, 2013 : 7:43 p.m.

A few helpful hints for those who've made losing weight part of their goal for the year: 1) Don't forget weight-resistant strength training. Muscle burns calories far more efficiently than fat does. 2) Avoid eating within 2-3 hours before going to bed. 3) Find a friend(s) to participate with and use each other for support. 4) Decrease consumption of "empty calories." Good luck to all in attaining your goals.


Fri, Jan 4, 2013 : 3:44 p.m.

But none of it matters if you eat crap.


Fri, Jan 4, 2013 : 1:24 p.m.

As far as #1 goes, you're both right. Here's the difference. Aerobic activity burns more calories during exercise. Strength training raises your metabolism for a longer period after you're done exercising.


Thu, Jan 3, 2013 : 11:59 p.m.

1) Aerobic activity is more effective than strength training in reducing weight 2) It doesn't matter what time of the day you eat, calories are calories, this myth has been debunked many times 3) For some people social support is a good motivator, for others having one's own solitary time is a motivator 4) Decrease empty calories is good advice, the problem is having the knowledge to discern what is empty and to be able to read food labels and identify hidden calories.


Thu, Jan 3, 2013 : 7:32 p.m.

With diet alone, I've been shedding pounds. I've lost about 12 pounds in the past two months doing nothing but changing the way I eat. (With the occasional relapse that takes a few days or more to work off again). I'm sure if I added exercise, I'd lose quicker...but this pace is alright for me.


Thu, Jan 3, 2013 : 7:15 p.m.

I kept trying to click both "diet" and "exercise" but the poll simply wouldn't let me.


Thu, Jan 3, 2013 : 6:09 p.m.

The Corn (sugar), Dairy and Meat industries in the US are heavily subsidized by the Government. Yet those are the very things that keep our nation fat and sick. Everything goes back to economics. Follow the money. Small family farms have been replaced by Corporate government subsidized operations. The Health Industry thrives on our poor eating habits. Only we can change ourselves and stop it.


Thu, Jan 3, 2013 : 10:06 p.m.

The Corporate Farm system makes it difficult for small farms that do produce good food for people to compete. Poor people end up eating the cheap junk that the corporations turn out because they are so heavily subsidized. The Obamas should put their money where their mouths are and demand that organic and humane farmers get a piece of the pie, not just Monsanto and General Mills.


Thu, Jan 3, 2013 : 7:17 p.m.

I ate some Quaker Oats this morning with some raisins in it. Somehow - against all hope - I was able to resist the siren call of sugar. PS This article has nothing to do with small farms vs. large farms. Small farms simply do not have the scale, nor the ability, to feed an industrialized nation of 300 million.

Kellie Woodhouse

Thu, Jan 3, 2013 : 6:08 p.m.

@EyeHeartA2 The poll is more to assess your mindset prior to shifting it, if that's what poll takers *plan* to do.


Thu, Jan 3, 2013 : 11:37 p.m.

I understand. I just found it a bit humorous.


Thu, Jan 3, 2013 : 5:44 p.m.

I love the poll. The article tells you the answer, then you are asked to vote on it. So, could the poll be rephrased as: A. Diet. B. I didn't read the article.


Thu, Jan 3, 2013 : 5:09 p.m.

Or my personal favorite when talking to someone who is a "few" pounds overweight. They will state that they are "big boned" and that diet and/or exercise will not work. :)

Lizzy Alfs

Thu, Jan 3, 2013 : 10:02 p.m.

I agree with you @justcurious. I think diet is 90 percent of losing weight and exercise is the other 10 percent. For me, at least.


Thu, Jan 3, 2013 : 6:04 p.m.

Actually, people are different frame sizes and we can vary quite a bit. Frame size is measured at the wrist. People of the same heights can be healthy at different weights and those weights can vary a lot. Diets don't work. Only lifestyle changes in eating patterns work. You can excercise till you are blue in the face and you won't lose anything unless you change your eating habits permanently.

Bertha Venation

Thu, Jan 3, 2013 : 4:10 p.m.

Hey ya, hon.... can you pass me that doughnut and remote? ;)


Thu, Jan 3, 2013 : 3:34 p.m.

This should be no surprise. The old adage "you are what you eat" will always hold true. The American diet for the last 60 years has shown food being replaced by chemicals and processing. Our sugar consumption has gone through the roof along with wheat a forms of corn. Artificial sweeteners (chemicals)are found in everything now. The only vegetable that many people eat is the french fry. I lost 50 pounds last year by learning to eat clean. No artificial sweeteners - only honey and maple syrup, no soda pop, no foods out of a box and few out of a can, no wheat flour products and plenty of whole fruits, vegetables, nuts, eggs, meats (yes bacon!) and real butter, not margarine. If you have to read a label - don't eat it. I lost that weight with very little formal exercise also. But it does not hurt to move your body as much when you lose that extra flab, that's for sure! You can do it, you just have to start and keep a food journal to keep you mindful of what you are doing. Your body wants to be at a healthy weight and I don't mean model thin.

Lizzy Alfs

Thu, Jan 3, 2013 : 10:01 p.m.

Good for you @justcurious. I'm interested: the artificial sweeteners thing, so that means no "light" yogurts, "sugar free" candy and that sort of thing?


Thu, Jan 3, 2013 : 3:23 p.m.