Cognitive and behavioural strategies employed to overcome "lapses" and prevent "relapse" among weight-loss maintainers and regainers: A qualitative study

Clin Obes. 2020 Oct;10(5):e12395. doi: 10.1111/cob.12395. Epub 2020 Aug 7.


While many behavioural weight management programmes are effective in the short-term, post-programme weight regain is common. Overcoming "lapses" and preventing "relapse" has been highlighted as important in weight-loss maintenance, but little is known on how this is achieved. This study aimed to compare the cognitive and behavioural strategies employed to overcome "lapses" and prevent "relapse" by people who had regained weight or maintained weight-loss after participating in a weight management programme. By investigating differences between groups, we intended to identify strategies associated with better weight-loss maintenance. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 26 participants (58% female) recruited from the 5-year follow-up of the Weight Loss Referrals for Adults in Primary Care (WRAP) trial (evaluation of a commercial weight-loss programme). Participants who had lost ≥5% baseline weight during the active intervention were purposively sampled according to 5-year weight trajectories (n = 16 'Regainers', n = 10 'Maintainers'). Interviews were audio-recorded, transcribed verbatim, and analysed thematically. Key differences in strategies were that Maintainers continued to pay attention to their dietary intake, anticipated and planned for potential lapses in high-risk situations, and managed impulses using distraction techniques. Regainers did not report making plans, used relaxed dietary monitoring, found distraction techniques to be ineffective and appeared to have difficulty navigating food within interpersonal relationships. This study is one of the longest qualitative follow-ups of a weight loss trial to date, offering unique insights into long-term maintenance. Future programmes should emphasize strategies focusing on self-monitoring, planning and managing interpersonal relationships to help participants successfully maintain weight-loss in the longer-term.

Keywords: lapses; qualitative; relapse; strategies; weight-loss maintenance; weight-management programmes.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Behavior Therapy / methods*
  • Body Weight Maintenance*
  • Body-Weight Trajectory
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Obesity / psychology
  • Obesity / therapy*
  • Qualitative Research
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Recurrence
  • Secondary Prevention / methods*
  • Weight Reduction Programs / methods*