Think Willpower is the Only Key to Losing Weight? Think Again
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Think Willpower is the Only Key to Losing Weight? Think Again

Weight Watchers Survey finds 71 per cent of Canadians Believe Weight-Loss Success Hinges on Willpower

Introducing Weight Watchers 360°. Finally, a weight-loss program built for human nature, designed to help make healthy choices automatic.

TORONTO, ONTARIO--(Marketwire - Dec. 3, 2012) - Behavioural science has long disproved the common misconception that willpower is the key to weight-loss success. This will come as a surprise to the more than 10 million Canadians who have failed at weight-loss attempts in the past year. A new survey, conducted by Weight Watchers Canada, has found 52 per cent of Canadians who started a weight-loss regimen in the past year were unsuccessful, citing a lack of willpower as the most common reason for falling off the weight-loss wagon.

But there is light at the end of the tunnel as new research continues to demonstrate why there is much more than willpower to consider when we attempt to lose weight. This research uncovered what is called hedonic hunger; the desire to eat for pleasure when we see, smell or even think about highly palatable foods. With this knowledge, Weight Watchers has developed a new approach to weight-loss that will change the way Canadians tackle their obesity issues.

It couldn't come at a better time as 52%(1) per cent of Canadians have been classified as overweight or obese. Combine this with the obesogenic environment in which we live, where we are bombarded every day with an abundance of unhealthy food choices and it becomes a growing trend with serious consequences for both individuals and the country. If this trend continues, 70 per cent of Canadian adults aged 40 and older will be either obese or overweight by 2040(2).

The Science of Hedonic Hunger

New scientific research shows humans actually experience two different types of hunger: homeostatic and hedonic.

Since the 1950s, scientists have often only looked at weight management through the homeostatic hunger lens. Homeostatic hunger is controlled by the hypothalamus, the part of the brain that tells us when to start and stop eating based on our blood sugar levels. In theory, this process should stop us from overeating. But we do overeat; we can finish the food on our plates even though we're full, and we crave dessert after dinner. The question is why?

Enter the concept of hedonic hunger, or eating for pleasure. Some researchers speculate that hedonic hunger may be part of a backup system that developed from our early ancestors. Eating was a means of survival - especially when food was scarce over the winter. Our ancestors not only had to eat more, but they had to eat foods with more fat and higher calories to ensure they had enough body fat to act as a buffer against starvation. As food has become more accessible, this hedonic reaction has not turned off, changing something that went from being an essential survival mechanism to one that can now drive us to overeat. So even though we're full, we can still desire food we don't need to eat, especially those rich in sugars or fat.

"This emerging science on hedonic hunger really helps explain why people struggle to make healthy choices," said Karen Miller-Kovach, Chief Scientific Officer, Weight Watchers International. "Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) allows us to see how the mere thought or sight of tempting foods light up reward centers in the brain. In other words, it's human nature for you to eat a healthy and satisfying meal, but then not be able to resist that piece of chocolate cake."

In today's world, food is very easily accessible. In fact, a study has shown that food is so easily accessible that the average person makes over 200 food-related decisions every day, but is only aware of approximately 15 of them(3). Because we are biologically-programmed to choose fattier or sweeter foods, and are inundated with so many choices, we are actually pre-disposed to making unhealthy decisions.

Insight into Canadian Cravings: When, What and Why

Thirty-seven per cent of Canadians surveyed indicated that weekday evenings are when they desire unhealthy foods the most, listing potato chips and chocolate as the foods they find most tempting. Forty-one per cent cited "I like the taste" as the main reason for eating unhealthy foods.

"The concept of hedonic hunger inspired us to rethink our approach, because tempting food has never been more available than it is today," said Miller-Kovach. "It is literally wired into our brains to eat delicious foods when it is in front of us. And with these food cues all around us, we need to learn how to clean up the places where we live and work, plan for the situations where we have little control, and establish routines that help make the healthy choice the automatic choice."

Weight Watchers is tackling hedonic hunger head on with its new 360° program that builds on the PointsPlus® plan as its foundation, but integrates new strategies and tools to help members establish healthy habits. Built for human nature, the new program combines current nutritional science with advancements in behavioural science. Weight Watchers teaches members how to build healthy routines that can become second nature, to set up their environments to lose weight successfully and learn to keep it off in the context of today's obesogenic environment. This comes as good news for the 62 per cent of Canadians surveyed who say that even though they did not achieve their weight-loss goals this year, they are open to trying again.

About the Survey

From November 7th to November 8th 2012 an online survey was conducted among 1,500 randomly selected Canadian adults who are Angus Reid Forum panelists. The margin of error-which measures sampling variability-is +/- 2.5%, 19 times out of 20. The results have been statistically weighted according to the most current education, age, gender and region (and language in Quebec) Census data to ensure a sample representative of the entire adult population of Canada. Discrepancies in or between totals are due to rounding.

About Weight Watchers Canada

Weight Watchers Canada Ltd. is a wholly owned subsidiary of Weight Watchers International, Inc., which is the world's leading provider of weight management services, operating globally through a network of Company-owned and franchise operations. Weight Watchers International Inc. holds over 45,000 meetings each week where members receive group support and learn about healthy eating patterns, behaviour modification and physical activity. provides innovative, subscription weight management products over the Internet and is a leading Internet-based weight management provider in Canada. In addition, Weight Watchers offers a wide range of products, publications and programs for those interested in weight-loss and weight control.

To view the image associated with this press release, please visit the following link:

(1) Statistics Canada, June 2011 CANSIM, table 105-0501 and Catalogue no. 82-221-X
(2) Le Petit C, Berthelot JM. Obesity: A Growing Issue (2005)
(3) Wansink B, and Sobal J. Hidden persuaders and 200 Daily decisions. Environment and Behavior. 39:1


Weber Shandwick for Weight Watchers
Aby Bueno
416 642 7893

Weber Shandwick for Weight Watchers
Patrick Martins
416 642 7958



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