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The role of patients' expectations and goals in the behavioral and pharmacological treatment of obesity



To investigate weight loss expectations and goals among obese treatment seekers and to examine the relationships of these expectations and goals to treatment outcomes.


Participants were 180 obese men and women (age 43.8±10.1 years; body mass index 37.6±4.2 kg/m2) who received one of four-year-long treatments that combined behavioral and pharmacological methods. Before treatment, they reported the amount of weight they realistically expected to lose after 4, 12, 26 and 52 weeks of treatment, as well as their ultimate weight loss goals. Expectations and goals were compared across treatment groups and examined in relation to previous weight loss efforts, weight loss and regain in treatment, attrition, satisfaction with treatment and mood.


Participants in all treatment groups expected reductions at week 52 that were significantly greater than the 5–15% of initial weight they were told was realistic and significantly more than they had ever lost before. Weight loss expectations were unrelated to achieved weight loss in all groups but one, in which greater expectations were associated with greater losses. Failure to meet weight loss expectations for the first 26 weeks of treatment was related to lower satisfaction ratings, but was not related to weight regain or attrition over the next 26 weeks. Symptoms of depression were reduced from baseline, regardless of whether participants achieved or failed to achieve their expected weight losses.


Across groups, we observed no negative consequences of having (and failing to meet) unrealistic expectations for weight loss.

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This study was supported in part by the following grants from the National Institutes of Health: K23-DK070777 to Dr Fabricatore; K24-DK065018 and R01-DK56124 to Dr Wadden and K23-DK60023 to Dr Sarwer. We thank Jennifer L Krasucki, Christopher I Wilson and Daniéle M Bourget for assistance in the preparation of this manuscript.

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Correspondence to A N Fabricatore.

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Fabricatore, A., Wadden, T., Womble, L. et al. The role of patients' expectations and goals in the behavioral and pharmacological treatment of obesity. Int J Obes 31, 1739–1745 (2007).

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  • expectations
  • goals
  • weight loss
  • weight regain
  • attrition
  • mood

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