Want to lose weight? Try thinking like a thin person

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Evidence that CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) is effective in weight loss is receiving continued support. Therapists such as Judith Beck, PhD, and director of the Beck Institute for Cognitive Therapy and Research in Philadelphia, have been using CBT for decades with great success. Beck, who started using CBT as a treatment method for weight loss twenty-five years ago, has found CBT to be so successful in this regard that she instituted a weight-loss program at Beck Institute a year ago. During the course of the year, Beck reports that women in the program have lost anywhere from a pound a week to a pound a month and have kept it off.

The secret, she says, is “to think like a thin person.” According to Beck, when one begins to change their thinking patterns eating behaviors will permanently change. For example, the thin person may identify hunger as a normal feeling that they wait to appease until their next scheduled meal. In contrast, the obese person may have developed a pattern of eating immediately to deal with their hunger; CBT can change such behavioral patterns.

Other studies have revealed similar findings. A Swedish randomized clinical trial published in March 2005 in the journal of Eating and Weight Disorders also found positive results when utilizing CBT for eating disorders. The study focused on 62 obese persons, 43 of which were controls, who were given group CBT for weight loss over a ten week period. The CBT group lost an average of 17 pounds by the end of the ten week period. What is most impressive is that the same group had lost on average five more pounds by the end of an 18-month follow up period.

The following is an excerpt of an article from Psychiatric News that reviews the study:

During a recent interview, Beck shared with Psychiatric News the philosophy underlying her CBT weight-loss program. Many diets lead to weight loss over the short term, but people often regain the weight that they have lost. Thus, if they want to lose weight permanently, they have to start thinking like a thin person, and this change in thinking will then lead to permanent changes in their eating behaviors. She gave the following examples of changes in thinking that can contribute to successful weight loss:

  • Change fundamental ideas about hunger. People who have never struggled with losing weight usually have quite different ideas about hunger than do those who struggle with it. The former tend to think of hunger as normal, tolerable, and that even when you sense it, you should wait until your next meal to eat. The latter are apt to think of hunger as bad, intolerable, and in need of instant fixing. “So unless people change this fundamental idea about hunger, chances are that, at some point, they are going to start eating out of control again,” Beck said.
  • Develop a nutritional eating plan and then identify those thoughts that are likely to get in the way of implementing it. In other words, they need to counter ideas that lead to overeating such as “dieting is too hard” or “it’s not fair that I have to diet.”
  • Write down the reasons they want to lose weight and read the list every day, not just at a regular time, but at times when they are hungry or craving food. People fighting obesity have to remind themselves over and over again why their goal is so important.
  • Remember in moments of temptation to say, “Okay, I have a choice. I can eat this food that I hadn’t planned to eat and get momentary pleasure and then feel badly afterwards, or I can remind myself of all the reasons why I want to lose weight and feel very good about myself.”
  • Learn how to say no to food pushers—family members and friends who enable overeating. And learning to say no means changing thinking patterns. It means stop worrying about disappointing other people and convince yourself that losing weight is a legitimate, important goal and that, as Beck put it, “I’m entitled to stick up for myself as long as I do it nicely in order to control my eating.”


Click here to read the entire article


Click here to visit Brookhaven’s facts page about compulsive overeating

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