DIETING
October 2, 2018

Mental Imagery Helps Diets Succeed

Dieters lost five times the weight when they imagined how it would feel and what they could do if they were thinner.

You've probably heard about keeping your eyes on the prize. A new approach to weight loss works by keeping all six senses, not just the eyes, focused on weight loss. Using those five extra senses made dieters far more successful: they lost over five times more weight than people using a program focusing on motivation, a British study finds.

People who used Functional Imagery Training (FIT) lost an average of nine pounds over six months, while those using Motivational Imaging (MI), a type of talk therapy, lost a little over a pound and a half. The FIT group also lost nearly two more inches around their waist than the talk therapy group did.

“So FIT comes in with the key aim of encouraging someone to come up with their own imagery of what change might look and feel like to them, how it might be achieved and kept up, even when challenges arise.”

People received no more than four hours of therapy time and no additional dietary advice or information.

The FIT program asks people to imagine how it would feel if they dropped those extra pounds and what they could do if they were gone. Some might imagine how it would feel to finally beat their partner at racquetball. For others, it could be the feeling of actually being light on their feet on the dance floor. Or how nice it would feel to be able to walk down the street for more than a few minutes without all that huffing and puffing.

For one participant, it was the feel of wearing the new dress she'd bought for her daughter's graduation: “I lost my mum at 60, and being 59 myself with a variety of health problems, my motivation was to be there for my daughter. I kept thinking about wearing the dress I'd bought for my daughter's graduation, and on days I really didn't feel like exercising, kept picturing how I'd feel. I've gone from 14 stone [196 lbs] to 12 stone 2 [about 170 lbs] and have managed to lower the dosage I need for my blood pressure tablets.”

“FIT is based on two decades of research showing that mental imagery is more strongly emotionally charged than other types of thought,” Jackie Andrade, co-author of the study, Professor in Psychology at the University of Plymouth and one of the co-creators of FIT, said. “[FIT] uses imagery to strengthen people's motivation and confidence to achieve their goals, and teaches people how to do this for themselves, so they can stay motivated even when faced with challenges.”

“Most people agree that in order to lose weight, you need to eat less and exercise more,” adds the study's lead author, Linda Solbrig, “but in many cases, people simply aren't motivated enough to heed this advice — however much they might agree with it. So FIT comes in with the key aim of encouraging someone to come up with their own imagery of what change might look and feel like to them, how it might be achieved and kept up, even when challenges arise.”

By the end of a year — six months after the therapy had finished — the FIT group continued to lose weight, dropping an average of over 14 pounds compared with about a pound and a half for the MI group.

The study is published in the International Journal of Obesity.
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