5 Psychological Methods to Help with Weight Loss

October 19, 2010 · 1 comment

This is a guest post by Mark Tyrrell.

Trying to lose weight can be stressful. But increased stress hormone in the body due to calorie restriction can slow down and even prevent weight loss. So when working with weight loss clients I’m very keen to teach them to relax deeply and often in order to normalize stress hormone levels in their bodies making it easier to lose weight. What we think and feel drives what we do and don’t do. It’s vital to get the mind right in order to help get the body in shape. I use a combination of hypnosis, stress management techniques and cognitive techniques to help people help themselves lose weight and get fit. Here are some of the psychological approaches that I’ve found useful.

Use self hypnosis
Forget clichéd ideas of stage show folk clucking like chickens or deep dark dangerous men with pointed beards and piercing eyes. Hypnosis actually has scientific pedigree. It’s not a magic cure but a powerful tool that helps many people change their lives for the better. Hypnotherapy is used to increase motivation and encourage healthy eating and regular exercise so that it feels more natural to engage in these behaviors.
Multiple studies have shown that adding hypnosis to more orthodox weight loss plans increased weight loss by an average of 97% during treatment but more importantly increased the effectiveness post treatment by over 146%! (1)

Visualize yourself reclaiming your “real shape.”
I sometimes use the analogy of the way a talented sculptor can “see” the true shape of their vision buried in the mass of rock and, bit by bit, with steady determination can start to “free” that shape. Losing weight is more like reclaiming what is yours and that’s the way I like my clients to think about it. I encourage people to hypnotically observe themselves getting trimmer visualizing themselves in a series of photos or on video from a disassociated perspective. Get a really goo mental image of yourself progressing into the future. Research has shown that dissociative hypnotic rehearsal is more likely to lead to the desired outcome than associated rehearsal (2)

Avoid black or white thinking
I also encourage m y weight loss clients to spot their own damaging and limiting thinking around their progress; limiting beliefs that may have been blocking their success. For example because the issue of weight is, unsurprisingly, very emotive for many people and because emotionality makes us think in more all or nothing, black or white ways then this is often an important issue to deal with. For instance they may have stuck to their diet and exercise program, improved their lean muscle to fat ratio and be fitting into the clothes they’ve been longing to wear then bam! For whatever reason they have a bad day or even just have one doughnut and suddenly (in their mind) it’s as if all their good work has been totally undone. This kind of all or nothing thinking is a trap because it sets us up for failure. I ask people to imagine a person walking up a hundred steps and finding that on the 90th they pause and even step back one or two steps. Does this mean they should just walk all the way back to the bottom? That those other 89 steps count for nothing?

Get your emotional needs met so you don’t do “emotional eating”
We all have unconscious drives to meet our emotional needs. If these needs are not met we may eat as a way of inadvertently satisfying what remains unfulfilled. For example we all have a need for human contact but if that’s not met we may turn to comfort eating.

We all need to:

  • Feel safe and secure in our lives (at least some of the time).
  • Regularly receive and give quality attention with other people.
  • Feel a sense of influence and control over our lives. Feeling out of control in life may lead to comfort eating which in turn can make us feel even more out of control.
  • Enjoy friendship, fun, love, and intimacy with significant people.
  • Feel part of a wider community.
  • Feel a sense of status and an appreciated role.
  • Feel stretched but not stressed to avoid stagnation and boredom, and to enhance self-esteem. If we feel continually under stretched we get bored and boredom eating is a real problem for some.

Consciously addressing areas in which emotional needs perhaps aren’t being fulfilled and then taking steps to meet those needs in healthy ways can really help offset; even stop “emotional eating.”

Follow the 80% rule to avoid stressful perfectionism
Sounds obvious but in order to be healthier we have to form healthy habits. According to the research of psychologist Phillipa Lally it takes on average 66 days before a habit becoming an automatic behavior. But Lally found that the new behavior didn’t need to be carried out absolutely every day. When working with people wishing to lose weight I try to take undue pressure off them by suggesting they aim to eat healthier for 80% of the time. This feels much less daunting than the prospect of having to “be good” 100% absolutely and always. And what tends to happen is that with this sense of relaxed intention people easily surpass the 80% healthy habit. Of course there are all kinds of considerations sometimes unique to the individual but these are some of the approaches I’ve found have worked for people over the years.

(1) Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 1996 and Kirsch, Irving (1996). Hypnotic enhancement of cognitive-behavioural weight loss treatments-Another meta-reanalysis. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 64, 517-519.

(2) An Ohio State University study published in Psychological Science in 2005 found that people were much more likely to actually vote in the 2004 presidential election after visualizing themselves voting from the perspective of an outside observer.

(3) Lally, P., van Jaarsveld, C., Potts, H., and Wardle, J. (2010). How are habits formed: Modelling habit formation in the real world. European Journal of Social Psychology DOI: 10.1002/ejsp.674

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{ 1 comment }

Angie G. October 21, 2010 at 3:01 pm

John,
Maybe you already read this blog BUT if you do not check it out (man, I just felt like a spammer). It is not exclusively about weight loss – but this entry http://www.danoah.com/2010/10/step-away-from-scale.html
is very interesting and eye opening. You might enjoy it.

I hope all is well with you.

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