Defining behavioral therapy for clinical weight management

Obesity is a chronic disease influenced “by genetic, physiological, environmental, psychological, social, economic, and political factors,” often requiring long-term management.1,2 Weight loss is challenging for many patients, and behavioral therapy is an important component of the treatment for obesity. Typically, health care professionals cite time constraints and lack of training as barriers to initiating behavioral therapy. However, the aim of behavioral therapy is to maximize the patient’s ability to effect change by enhancing and promoting self-care.3 The strategies and skills for behavioral therapy provided throughout this resource are also embedded into many of the talking points and questions provided in the Rethink Your Obesity Discussions guide.

According to Wadden et al, “As applied to weight control, behavior therapy refers to a set of principles and techniques for helping obese individuals modify eating, activity, and thinking habits that contribute to their excess weight.”4


Characteristics of behavioral therapy for weight management5

While there are several skills and strategies associated with behavioral therapy, it is defined by the following characteristics:

  • It specifies goals that can be measured over time
  • The treatment focuses on the process of behavioral change
  • It encourages small, manageable changes rather than drastic ones


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Related Information

Additional Resources

Find professional organizations related to obesity, treatment guidelines, and more.


  1. Garvey WT, Garber AJ, Machanick JI, et al. American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists and American College of Endocrinology position statement on the 2014 advanced framework for a new diagnosis of obesity as a chronic disease. Endocr Pract. 2014;20(9):977-989.
  2. Wright SM, Aronne LJ. Causes of obesity. Abdom Imaging. 2012;37(6):730-732.
  3. Adachi Y. Behavior therapy for obesity. JMAJ. 2005;48(11):539-544.
  4. Wadden TA, Webb VL, Moran CH, Bailer BA. Lifestyle modification for obesity: new developments in diet, physical activity, and behavior therapy. Circulation. 2012;125(9):1157-1170.
  5. Kushner R, Lawrence V, Kumar S. Practical Manual of Clinical Obesity. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley-Blackwell;2013.