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The concept of losing weight seems simple enough. Eat fewer calories than you burn, exercise regularly and you will eventually see results. There are loads of ways one can lose weight, there are many diet and exercise programs out there. However, a study finds that the process can be made significantly better by just a few mind image techniques.

A study was conducted by Dr. Linda Solbrig and colleagues, from the University of Plymouth in the United Kingdom. It was an interesting study because it explored something different. Usually, studies on weight loss focus on different diets or exercise programs. However, this one focused on mental training, how your brain can contribute just as much if not more towards achieving your goal.

What the study was about

Two methods of motivating a person to lose weight were compared i.e. their effectiveness. The first one is called “Motivational Interviewing (MI)” and the second one is called “Functional Imagery Training (FIT)”. Both methods try to help people lose weight by providing them with the motivation to keep going.

Motivation is a big problem for many people. If you’re not motivated, then you likely won’t see substantial results. That’s because people who lack motivation often give up after a while and go back to their usual routine of unhealthy eating. Therefore, motivational mental exercises like MI and FIT can go a long way in helping a person achieve their goals.

Motivational interviewing helps people voice their opinions as to what motivates them to bring a change. The change, in this case, would be to lose weight. On the other hand, FIT asks the person to fully visualize in the most realistic way possible what they’d be able to do once they’ve achieved their goal. Moreover, they’re asked to focus on things that they’d be able to do after the change that their current position renders them unable to do.

Most people agree that in order to lose weight, you need to eat less and exercise more, but in many cases, people simply aren’t motivated enough to heed this advice — however much they might agree with it,” explains Dr. Solbrig.

“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,” she adds.

Both methods can have a huge impact on a person’s weight loss journey. The study tries to find which one is better in enhancing weight loss.

The Study

The study had 141 participants, all of whom had a body mass index (BMI) of over 25. According to current medical standards, a BMI of 25 is not healthy and BMI values over 30 are considered overweight. Therefore, it’s a good point to start off from.

The participants were assigned to two groups, one for MI and one for FIT. 55 were assigned to the former whereas the latter was given 59 people. Both groups had their assigned form of therapy or ‘intervention’ by a one-on-one session and via phone too. The participants also received follow-up calls over the next 3 months every couple of weeks. After those 3 months had passed, they would then receive a call once per month for 3 more months.

The participants’ body fat and other assessments were taken before the study began, after the 6 month period described above, and then one final assessment after 12 months had gone by in total.

The results

The results were quite interesting. The researchers found out that participants who were in the FIT group had lost 5 times more weight when compared to the participants in the MI group. Those who underwent FIT had lost 4.3 centimeters more around their waistline more than those that underwent MI in a 6 month period.

On average, the FIT group lost 4.11 kilograms whereas the MI group lost only 0.74 kilograms. The difference here is astounding and it goes to show how powerful mental fortitude can be when trying to achieve any goal, not just weight loss. This point is driven home by the fact that people that underwent FIT lost even more weight as time went by. By the time the entire 12 month period was over, the average increased to 6.44 kg whereas the average for the MI group fell to 0.67 KG. On the results, Dr. Solbrig commented:

“It’s fantastic that people lost significantly more weight on this intervention, as, unlike most studies, it provided no diet/physical activity advice or education”.
“People were completely free in their choices and supported in what they wanted to do, not what a regimen prescribed.”

What makes FIT so special?

Image: Slideshare

It’s not due to chance that FIT was able to produce the results it did. According to specialists, FIT uses multisensory imagery. It asks people to imagine a situation where they’ve achieved the goal they’re working for. Once people are able to visualize what they can or would want to do after losing weight, it really helps in motivating them to work hard.

It’s not just about visualizing success either. People were asked to imagine everything about their life after weight loss, from how the new experiences would look and feel to even how they might taste and smell. It’s a very powerful exercise. Dr. Solbrig explains:

“We started with taking people through an exercise about a lemon [regarding the FIT technique]”.
“We asked them to imagine seeing it, touching it, juicing it, drinking the juice, and juice accidently squirting in their eye, to emphasize how emotional and tight to our physical sensations imagery is.”

According to Dr. Solbrig, the whole process then lets them encourage the person to fully imagine and embrace their goals. The focus shifts from ‘imagining’ to what you can do after achieving your goal. For example, what are the things you’ll be able to do after losing weight that you might not be able to do right now? These can be physical limitations or any other, it depends from person to person. The person is encouraged to use all their senses.

As a result, people who have trouble finding the motivation to lose weight have a reason to stick to their plan. As mentioned earlier, motivation is everything when it comes to weight loss. That’s because weight loss is a slow process, you really need to dedicate yourself and consistently work for it.

What FIT does is help change your mindset, which is key. Losing weight is all about changing your lifestyle to a better, healthier one. Unless there’s a change in your mindset about how you want to go about your life, you won’t get far. That’s where FIT comes in, and it truly is a powerful tool for weight loss.

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