The obstacles to weight-loss could be all in your head. According to a new school of thought in weight management, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can help us examine our eating patterns and the thoughts associated with food to change unhealthy behavior—and help us lose unwanted weight.
CBT is a technique that dissects how our thoughts and perceptions (that’s the cognition) affect our actions (and that’s the behavior). It has shown success in treating conditions such as depression, anxiety and addiction. And now the treatment is being applied to help modify eating behaviors.
“Diets don’t work, because you can’t stay on them forever,” explains Dr. Valerie Taylor, director of the Canadian Obesity Network’s mental health program. “You need to learn alternative strategies to cope with the [craving] triggers in the first place. CBT gives people the ability to analyze their behaviors and question their perspectives. It really challenges people to identify their emotional and interpersonal triggers around food.” For example, once you identify a negative thought (such as “Showing emotions means I’m weak”), you can develop and practice a countering thought (“It takes a lot of personal strength to face emotions head-on”). “And it works,” says Taylor.
A 2010 study published in the Archives of General Psychiatry showed that CBT works in the long run, unlike some weight-loss techniques. The study followed 205 men and women with binge eating disorder, and found that CBT helped prevent binge eating for at least two years.
For more insight on why the pounds aren’t dropping off, try the self-help CBT tool co-authored by Taylor, The Cognitive Behavioral Workbook for Weight Management. The book is structured to be used either by individuals at home or with a CBT instructor; check with your doctor to see if there are any classes in your area.
Summer 2011 issue Best Health magazine