It isn’t always easy to lose weight or to maintain a healthy lifestyle- in fact, it can be harder than one may think to do so. In their 2017 data brief, the CDC National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) reported that in 2016, 39.8% of adults and 18.5% of youth were obese in the United States. The European Association for the Study of Obesity reported that at minimum, 2.8 million people are dying every year due to obesity (2013). Furthermore, obesity is not the only other health issue the world has to worry about- eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and even binge-eating disorder are taking the world by storm.
The National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders reported that at the very least, 30 million Americans suffer from an eating disorder such as those above in their lifetime (2018). This is not an issue to be taken lightly, as every 62 minutes at least one person dies due to an eating disorder (The National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, 2018). There are many biological factors that go into the study of what causes these eating disorders. Genetics and metabolism play a large role in how your body stores fat and metabolizes calories (Balentine, 2018).
According to Feldman, author of Understanding Psychology, there are three main chemical compositions in the blood that relate to hunger and the biological factors in eating: glucose levels, insulin, and ghrelin (2017). Our glucose levels regulate feelings of hunger while insulin is a hormone that leads sugar storage in blood as fat and ghrelin is the hormone that tells our brain to feel hungry. (2017). The hypothalamus plays a large role in monitoring glucose levels and is primarily responsible for monitoring our food intake (2017).
It is important to recognize the physiological and biological factors in this growing epidemic of eating disorders. It is widely known, however that eating disorders aren’t always strictly due to biological factors as discussed above. In fact, psychological as well as environmental factors play just as large of a part in the causation of eating disorders if not more. Sociocultural factors such as the idea that there is a “perfect” body may be playing a larger part in the ideals of people with or without eating disorders (The Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt, 2015).
Instead of focusing on the resolution of such irreversible damage, we should be focusing on the prevention, down to the biological and psychological levels. This leads us to studying two main behaviors that society generally categorizes together- eating habits and physical activity (Andrade et al., 2009). It is important to note that eating habits and physical activity are the main topics of study when it comes to overall health and avoiding eating disorders because this is the backbone of most research regarding said topic.
With this being said, motivation and drive are two of the most intriguing studies regarding the maintenance of a healthy lifestyle and prevention of eating disorders and other diseases. Though the research relating public health and the prevention of eating disorders to motivation is slim, I believe the psychology of motivation will help us solve the growing epidemic of eating disorders and overall, help figure out how to focus on prevention and maintaining our health, and here’s why.
First and foremost, drive and instincts are unfathomably important when it comes to understanding motivation. Instinctually, we are compelled to follow our biological needs in order to maintain homeostasis, one of our primary drives as a human-being. This is important when regarding exercise and eating habits because maintaining homeostasis is a primary need. This can be seen in many different theories of motivation.
One main theories is Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Abraham Maslow originally manifested his five-tier model of human needs in 1943 in his paper titled “A Theory of Human Motivation” (McLeod, 2018). In this paper Maslow explained that generally speaking one had to accomplish the lower tier levels, physiological (similar to primary needs) and safety needs before achieving the higher tier levels, love and belongingness and esteem, before finally reaching self-actualization (2018).
The first four levels in the five-tier approach are often known as deficiency needs and when the deficiency needs are not being met, we are motivated to achieve them (2018). Maslow later clarified that as long as a need was more or less satisfied, one can progress towards satisfying another need. Similar to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, Clark Hull created the drive-reduction theory which suggests that straying away from homeostasis creates a psychological need and therefore results in a drive to bring the system back to homeostasis (Health Research Funding, 2018).
Andrade and collogues reported that Baker and Brownell (2000) made a correlation between exercise influencing long-term weight management and physiological processes such as body-image, energy, and self-efficacy (Andrade et al., 2009). Baker and Brownell also reportedly argued how these processes would result in far stronger confidence and motivation as well as sticking to healthy exercise and dietary habits (2009). Andrade and collogues stress the importance of the quality of motivation as they based their entire works off of the self-determination theory by Deci and Ryan which suggests that there are intrinsic and extrinsic motivators (Deci and Ryan 2000).
Deci and Ryan’s self- determination theory is of the most important when it comes to the psychology of self-motivation. Self-determinism relies on three main categories: autonomy, competence, and relatedness (2000). This theory is the most important when it comes to self-motivation because it focuses on motivation in terms of it being on a continuum. Deci and Ryan distinguish the self-determination theory as a constant struggle between what society says and what our body tells us we should do (2000).
All of our actions and choices stem from either intrinsic or extrinsic motivators which in turn allow us to decide what choices to make (2000). Their research showed that extrinsic motivators such as tangible rewards impeded on intrinsic motivation which in turn made the participants less likely to stay motivated towards their goals (2000). Moving forward, Andrade and collogues’ study on the “spill-over effect” studied feelings fueled by self-determination and autonomy and whether or not more autonomous and intrinsic motivation related to self-regulation when it came to diet and exercise.
Their study focused on top-down and bottom-up processes and three different types of motivation: situational, contextual, and global-level motivation. The top-down processing would refer to the impact of motivation of a higher level down to a lower level while bottom-up processing would refer to the experiences on a lower level that affect the higher levels of motivation (Andrade et al., 2009). Another theory includes Scott Geller’s theory of empowerment, which asks higher order cognitive functions such as evaluating self-efficacy and response efficacy which was developed and studied by Albert Bandura (TED, 2013).
Geller’s Ted Talk on the psychology of self-motivation concludes that in-order to be self-motivated we have to be a success seeker rather than a failure-avoider (2013). This means that we need to focus on finding intrinsic motivators rather than extrinsic ones (doing things simply because we have to) (2013). If we carry this approach to motivation throughout the study of our exercise and eating habits like Andrade and collogues suggest, we are more likely to develop more successful exercise and eating habits that will in turn act as intrinsic motivators to maintain those regimens.
The three main objectives in Geller’s theory of the psychology of motivation are community and connectedness, choice, and competence (2013). He believes that if all three of these are achieved, we are more likely to empower ourselves and be motivated to maintain our healthy lifestyles (2013). Geller stresses three questions in his approach to determining competence: “Can you do it?, “Will it work?”, and “Is it worth it?”(2013). As Geller mentions, Andrew Carnegie once said, “Every act you have ever performed since the day you were born was performed because you wanted something” and this is the approach that tells us how to determine whether or not becoming self-motivated regarding your health is something you really want or not (2013).
Due to the copious amounts of research, it can be concluded that the key to success may result from determination, motivation, and drive which energizes our behavior in order to fulfill a need. These needs can be primary such as water, food, and avoidance of pain, or can be secondary drives which get us to the primary ones such as money and power (Allen 1982).
Creating and maintaining self- motivation means listening to our biological needs. From Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs to Deci and Ryan’s theory on self-determination, all data comparatively says that we need to listen to our primary needs and through the awareness of these needs we are able to create intrinsic motivation, meaning we work out and diet because we know it is what our body needs to reach self- actualization rather than extrinsic motivators or social factors which can steer us in the wrong direction.
The struggle between creating and maintaining our self-motivation is a struggle between what society thinks we should do vs. what we know our bodies need. In order to prevent eating-disorders and diseases such as obesity we need to listen to our bodies and create intrinsic motivation within ourselves, so we are able to maintain healthy eating habits and exercise routines. Though the psychology of motivation has a multitude of theories, there are numerous crossovers between them. Regardless of societal and physiological factors, the secret to successful self-motivation is within us all, however it is finding those needs that is the hard part.