Does Making a Public Commitment Really Help People Lose Weight?

Several of the most popular weight loss programs operate on the public commitment principle. Individuals are challenged to state “publicly” (which may simply mean in front of a small weight loss group) that they want to lose so much weight in a given time period. The commitment hinges on social pressure working against the possibility of failure.  If someone doesn’t succeed, or at least make substantial progress toward the goal, everyone will know it. 

On the face of it, this principle seems sound, since no one wants to be publicly embarrassed or viewed as a hypocrite. In practice, however, there’s a hitch. For the public commitment principle to operate at full steam, its adherents must genuinely fear the disapproval of others—and that’s simply not true of everyone.

A recent study in the journal Psychology and Marketing investigated how public commitment affects individuals who fear social disapproval—that is, people with high susceptibility to normative influence (SNI)—versus individuals who are not as easily influenced by others’ opinions (low SNI).  It also tested the efficacy of short-term versus long-term public commitment, as well as no public commitment.

Two-hundred and eleven women between the ages 20 and 45 were recruited for the study.  They signed up for a 16-week weight loss program designed to help people lose 15 to 20 pounds and maintain weight loss over time.  All subjects completed questionnaires that gauged SNI level and personal weight-loss motivation.  Subjects were then randomly separated into three groups: long-term public commitment, short-term public commitment, and no public commitment.

Those in the long-term group wrote their names and weight loss goals on  index cards that were publicly displayed in the fitness center for the full 16 weeks of the program. Those in the short-term group did the same, but the cards were displayed for only the first three weeks.  Those in the no public commitment group did not fill out cards. 

At the conclusion of the study, the effect of long-term public commitment was evident. Those in the long-term group lost significantly more weight than the short-term and no commitment groups. At the 16-week mark, subjects in the long-term group had on average exceeded their goals to the tune of 102%, while the short-term group achieved an average of 96% success and the no commitment group reached only 88%. 

The effect of SNI level was also evident.  Subjects in the long-term group that tested as having low SNI—in other words, low susceptibility to social pressure—achieved an average of 90% of their weight loss goals.  In contrast, individuals who tested as having high SNI exceeded their weight loss goals by a significant margin: an average of nearly 105%. 

What this study tells us is that in general the public commitment principle produces results, especially if the commitment is long-term.  But, in the mix of people who make the commitment, those who genuinely fear social disapproval—not a personality trait usually given very high marks–will likely succeed the most. Those who couldn’t care less what others think are, ironically, more likely to come up short.

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128 responses to “Does Making a Public Commitment Really Help People Lose Weight?

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  5. tracifoust

    “Those who couldn’t care less what others think are, ironically, more likely to come up short.”

    Well, that would be me… but I’d like to, I guess. Sometimes I think it’s unhealthy to NOT give a flying f*@#. Do you have an article on that? I’d be interested.

    Love your blog. First time posting a comment.

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  7. G

    Great study. I always try to declare my goals to everyone around me because I figured that it would be harder to go back on my word.
    Recently, I convinced a friend to quit drugs and while she was really motivated, she went around and told her family that she had a problem and was going to fix it. A week later she was craving again but refused to give in because of what her parents would think.

  8. Very well writen article – Thanks

  9. Just like putting money in a gym, any sort of investment will help you try to push yourself. Social expectations are incredible motivators. 🙂

  10. Love the blog, keep up the good work.

  11. I think people should make the commitment with itselves…

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  14. Making your weight loss commitment in public will help in some cases. The idea that the person will be embarrassed if the commitment is not fulfilled simply to not apply to all. If there is really no commitment and determination, even if you broadcast your commitment throughout the nation there would still be no results. It’s better to talk to someone who is an expert in weight loss and ask their advise for a better and healthy living

  15. People need support and making a public committment is a good way to start but a proper mind set needs to happen before public committment.

  16. CD

    Great post! I found it very helpful and inspiring.

  17. Yes i think for the majority of people having that added pressure of needing to succeed will help them with better weight loss results, but of course not everybody will thrive under the pressure, so i guess it just depends on the individual.

  18. Great post. I especially found it useful where you stated that about public commitment putting pressure to a person to strive hard to attain what was being said. But it also varies to the persons willingness to fulfill that commitment.. Thanks, Janet.
    By the way, I like your the post.. ^.^

  19. Public commitment might work for some people who are not ready to keep it and adhere or want the motivation. The biggest challenge is if you fail you endup being more depressed than you were before you started.

    Loosing weight should be an individual duty and if you can strongly believe its possible you can do. But we are all different and some of us need to have others watching over them.

    Nice article.

  20. This study is interesting because it shows that people who are accustomed to meet its work, family, personal and social commitments have a high probability of success if they intend to lose weight. Losing weight also implies commitment to achieve it without excuses.

  21. Weight loss can be simple: Eat less, of higher quality foods. Get up and MOVE more. Take supplements to get “over the hump” when needed. Unfortunately, most supplements do one of 2 things: 1. trick your body into thinking you’re full when you’re not. This is starvation. 2. rev up your metabolism, and we’ve all read about how dangerous this can be. A new set of supplements uses Leptin – the hormone your cells release to tell your brain “we’re full”. Our modern lives – stress,poor eating, etc. – mess with our body chemistry, and sometimes those messages don’t get through. Leptin supplements, like Mandura TRIM, help cut through the ‘clutter’ and make sure your brain knows when to stop eating. Naturally. Safe, effective, and Clinically Proven.

  22. weight loss is sometimes difficult to attain, it all depends on your motivation and genetics -.’

  23. Despite the fact that it might work, I think that overall it is not a healthy choice for a person’s mind to find success through fear. The best way is to make a personal commitment to yourself to lose the weight, BECAUSE YOU WANT TO lose it, not because other people think you should. I would imagine that succeding through a self motivated decision will likely have more permanent long term effects.

  24. page is very nice and very interesting info

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  26. Public commitment is a nice idea. But still, I suppose that people should make a commitment to themselves. Of course, only strong willed people can take control of their lives and simply stop eating. There are many other ways to lose weight. Commitments are only a start point…

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  31. jamsheed memon

    Rome wasn’t built in a day and your fat loss won’t happen that way either. Don’t expect to start eating perfectly and exercising religiously tomorrow. Instead set yourself up for success by implementing at least one supportive habit per week. Make an effort to adopt the premise of “progress, not perfection.” By developing awareness that improvement is measured by your daily progress, you can save yourself a lot of grief and frustration from the beginning. Focusing on small, positive steps in everything you do is a vital component to change. It starts you moving in the right direction and the momentum of your amazing, transforming results will soon follow. With time, commitment and a willingness to continue to take those small steps, failure is not an option.

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  46. Weight loss foods are a great way to stay in the mix. If you go out to eat a meal just eat one third of the meal and take the rest home. When your body gets hungry just give it a couple of bites to end your noisey stomach. We are conditioned to feed ourselves lots of food. Food is great. Its one of the best things in the world but to much food results in a over weight disaster. We get sluggish and really slow. Heavy weight on our body can hurt our structure and make us feel negative towards ourself. Dont let yourself go. Come back to where you want to be. You can do this.

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  48. jessica344

    Here is my public commitment.
    I will not have gluten or sugar until May 1st 2013 No acceptions will be made. Please people keep me accountable.

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  52. You should keep it up forever! Good Luck{.|..|…}

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  61. Weight loss is a 31 day commitment. All the other times you tried to loose weight was just practice. Now you are ready for the real deal. Keep your word to yourself. Do this for you. Its your turn to loose the weight and keep it off for good. As crazy as it seems, just respect yourself enough to just say “no” to the foods that have held you down for so long. Take charge of this one thins “weight loss” and controll it. Dont let it control you.

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