Think and Lose Weight

by Charles Platkin, PhD

has been a hot topic these past couple of weeks, primarily because of the International Conference on Obesity in Sao Paulo, Brazil, where scientists discussed the latest on what it takes to lose weight and keep it off. While the typical talk of increased exercise and reduction in calories was highlighted, it seems that experts are finding that altering our actions can be more important than what we consume. “The key to getting the weight off and keeping it off is being able to make permanent changes in your behavior,” says Dr. James Hill, Director of the Center for Human Nutrition at the University of Colorado.

Changing is no easy task, as many of us know firsthand. And as much as we may have the desire to transform, there will always be cravings and temptations to deter our efforts. So, when it’s fast food time, and French fries are screaming our name, how can we empower ourselves rather than relying on pure willpower?

There are time-tested techniques that can help you modify your behavior permanently. One strategy that is frequently used by athletes, business leaders, and other successful individuals to achieve performance goals can also be used to help you lose and control your weight.

It’s called “visualization” — an imagined, meaningful, detailed vision of your life after you’ve reached your goal weight; a specific moment in time. It was a hot topic during the last Olympics — an athlete having a “vision” of crossing the finish line and winning the race before the event.

Applying this behavioral exercise to weight control will give you a clearer mental picture of your end result or reward. And by “seeing” this end goal, it helps to fill in some of the details of “how” you get there, according to nutritionist Theresa Davis, M.S., R.D. “Visualization not only helps clients understand why they want to lose weight, but also helps keep them motivated, especially during the rough times when they are about to be derailed from their program,” says Davis.

How do you use visualization to help you lose weight? Here’s how to get started:

1. DETAIL: You should be able to smell, see, and hear this future moment. What will you look like when you lose the weight? How will you feel? How will your life be different?

2. COMPELLING: Make these visualizations compelling and inspiring, so that they really mean something to you when you’re in a time of need (remember, they’ll have some powerful forces to stand up to, such as those tasty garlic knots at your favorite Italian restaurant, or that diabolical duo, Ben and Jerry!).

3. EVENTS: Use upcoming events as a way to set the stage for your visualization. For example, imagine seeing an old friend at a reunion after losing 30 pounds, or going to a doctor’s appointment and hearing that your cholesterol and blood pressure have decreased. Example: “I ran into my ex-husband at the mall. I hadn’t seen him in years, and he didn’t even recognize me at first. Boy did it feel great to be 60 pounds lighter and feeling wonderful!”

4. WRITE IT DOWN: Make sure your visualizations are on paper and readily available. You can laminate a note card, use a page in your date book, or enter them in your Palm Pilot. Have them handy so you can keep your goal in mind any time you have a craving or are tempted to go overboard — use it as a “life preserver.”

5. RELAX: Don’t worry if you can’t visualize a slimmer, healthier you right away; experts say that it can take some time. Instead, start with the future event, and over time the rest of the details will work themselves out.

Research has shown that using visualization is an effective strategy in empowering an individual during weight loss and maintenance, primarily because it instills a person with confidence that their goals are both worthwhile and reachable, while also providing energy and desire to maintain inspiration during difficult times. As Dr. Hill points out, “everyone will face challenges in maintaining weight loss. You have to develop lifelong strategies for dealing with these challenges. Visualization is one such strategy.”

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