Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for Weight Loss

By Dr. Becky Spelman

Traditionally it’s been used as a treatment for a range of psychological difficulties from anxiety to obsessive compulsive disorder and phobias. So it’s no surprise to find that today many diet coaches and desperate dieters are employing Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) as a way of controlling the modern-day epidemic of obesity.

How it works
CBT is all about focusing on the ‘here and now’ rather than past psychological trauma. It looks at emotions and how they affect present-day behaviour. Many dieters admit to binge eating when feeling down or panicky; others say they eat when bored or suffering feelings of loss. It’s clear, therefore, that there is a behaviour element to their eating difficulties.
But it’s not as easy as simply identifying why dieters overeat (many know the reasons already and it doesn’t stop them). CBT’s aim is to get the dieter to alter their thoughts and behaviour when confronted with a particular emotion (ie boredom, panic) so that they no longer focus on food but instead challenge their thinking or utilise an alternative behaviour such as phoning a friend or embarking on a session of deep breathing to decrease the intensity of their emotion.

What’s involved
In order to lose weight it’s important to stick to a rigid eating plan and regular exercise routine. Both of which are easier said than done. A CBT Psychologist or Psychotherapist can provide support with motivation, advise on techniques and show the dieter the inter-relationship between food and its relationship to his/her own self image. They can also provide a sounding board in the crucial maintenance stage of weight loss.

What techniques does CBT use for weight loss?

  • Stress management can help with overeating which is caused by panic, anxiety or boredom.
  • Self-analysis causes the dieter to ask if they really want a particular food and why.
  • A food diary (record of what has been eaten that day and the emotions it elicited) gives the dieter insight into both their eating patterns and emotions.
  • Cognitive restructuring teaches people how to challenge unhelpful thoughts about weight and dieting (e.g. I’ll never be able to stick a diet rather than I didn’t today but tomorrow will be different).
  • Break the links between thinking and behaviour i.e I’m fat anyway so I might as well just eat this.

In essence, cognitive behaviour therapy for weight loss is about getting the individual to stop blaming their self for being overweight, to look at their weight objectively and to set realistic goals to achieving weight loss.

A typical CBT weight-loss programme

  • Establish a diet and exercise regime
  • Look at food behaviours eg binge eating, comfort eating, regular nibbling
  • Get body image back in proportion
  • Motivate the individual into continuing to diet through tough times
  • Alter the dieters unhelpful thinking, core beliefs and emotions which influence their behaviours
  • Maintenance – through relapse prevention

How effective is it?
By highlighting what is in many ways, the relationship between food and negative body image and confidence, CBT gets the dieter to focus on the underlying problems of confidence or work stress (the issue causing the anxiety which in turn leads to overeating) separately so that boosting the patient’s self-esteem becomes the main focus rather than eating. As a plus, increased confidence allows them to cope easier with the dieting regime.
CBT therapists believe that if the underlying problem isn’t dealt with then even if the dieter reaches their target weight through other means they’ll simply put it back on again by adopting old behaviours when the same emotions resurface. This makes them feel even more of a failure and the lack of self-confidence worsens. In other words, many proponents of CBT say it’s effective in weight loss because it treats ‘underlying problems’ and behaviours rather than just the weight loss itself.

Want to loose weight? Still trying to decide whether Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is the right therapy for you?
Call our team on 020 8150 7563 or 075 1111 6565 for a free 15 minute confidential chat or to arrange an appointment with an expert who will be able to help.
If you wish to ask the writer of this article a question you can contact Dr. Rebecca Spelman here


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