Weight Loss: Why Doesn’t Knowledge Translate into Action?

Photo by HeavyWeightGeek / Gavin Brogan, via Flickr

Photo by HeavyWeightGeek / Gavin Brogan, via Flickr

By now, most people are aware of the basic formula for maintaining a healthy weight: eating low calorie, nutritious food and exercising regularly. But obesity continues to be a major health issue worldwide, and it seems clear by now that there’s more than a knowledge deficit at the root of the problem. That’s why when I worked in primary care I was always frustrated by orders to give patients a handout on low-fat diets (and two minutes of explanation) and send them on their way. Once, a patient came in with back pain; she’d fallen out of a chair that broke when she sat on it. While her eyes glazed over, I spent a few minutes going over the diet the doctor ordered for her. At the end of this painfully futile exchange I asked her if she had any questions. She responded, “Have you ever thought of cutting your hair short?” Something tells me she didn’t run right out to buy vegetables and join a gym.

In a recent AJN editorial, then editor-in-chief Diana Mason wrote about her struggles—and successes—with weight loss. This was a follow-up to an editorial from 2006, in which she’d written, “Nothing has worked for more than a few months. . . .

[T]o what lengths should I go to lose weight? Bariatric surgery? Purging? Drug therapy? Fasting?” She now credits her recent weight loss to working with a nutrition coach.

When I first heard about the nutrition coach a year or so ago, I suggested to my father that he try it out. He has tried to lose weight on his own, on and off, for as long as I can remember. But in recent years it’s been more off than on, and I was concerned about his health. For months we had a back-and–forth exchange: Yes, he would go; no, he’d changed his mind. Right around the time that Diana’s editorial came out in May, he went to a physician for his usual battery of tests. At that appointment he mentioned my nagging him to see a nutritionist. The physician replied, “It’s really not necessary,” and said something along the lines of the standard “eat less and exercise more.” When he told me this, I e-mailed him the editorial.

I’m happy to say he’s been seeing the nutritionist for six weeks now. He writes down everything he eats and walks two miles a day. So far he’s lost 20 pounds. I think it’s about the accountability of sending in a daily food log. As is true with any sort of motivational intervention, the personal cheerleader has really made a difference to my father.

—Christine Moffa, MS, RN, AJN clinical editor

Bookmark and Share

Senior editor/social media strategy, American Journal of Nursing, and editor of AJN Off the Charts.


  1. dave June 28, 2009 at 1:08 am

    >>>> I must say “really nice post”…
    I know it could be hard to loose weight so i made a free
    weight loss comparison guide view it at
    … http:www.squidoo.com/weight-loss-comparison
    I hope you enjoy it.

  2. Weight loss program -er June 22, 2009 at 10:08 am

    You pointed right thing here-thing that people tend to close eyes on-not every weight loss is beneficial-oposite -it is counterproductive!

    So congrat’s to your father who made right decidion and decided to go with it-i think that support factor was the biggest push-from you and nutricionist.

  3. Amy a nurse student June 14, 2009 at 7:56 am

    As part of a family in which we all struggle with weight and having to struggle with my own weight I have to say it’s not a knowledge deficit. I and my family have and can get access to just gobs of information on diet and exercise. No one wants to be heavy believe me! What’s worse is what works for one person doesn’t work for everyone else. In a day in age where being overweight is costing insurance companies millions in related claims (diabetes, hypertension etc.) it would save them hundreds of thousands per a year to provide access to this kind of targeted coaching like a nutritionist. For those of us without health insurance and a limited income the best way I have found is find a weight loss buddy and cheer each other on!

Comments are moderated before approval, but always welcome.

%d bloggers like this: