In a new study, researchers found that overweight people who used a new intervention called Functional Imagery Training (FIT) lost an average of five times more weight than those using talking therapy alone.
In addition, these users lost 4.3 cm more around their waist circumference in six months and continued to lose weight after the intervention had finished.
The research was conducted by a team from the University of Plymouth and Queensland University.
In the study, the team examined 141 people who used FIT or Motivational Interviewing (MI), a technique that seeing a counselor support a person to develop, highlight and talk about their need or motivation for change, and their reasons for wanting to change.
FIT goes one step further than MI, as it makes use of multi-sensory imagery to explore these changes by teaching clients how to elicit and practice motivational imagery themselves.
The intervention group started with taking people through an exercise about a lemon. The team asked them to imagine seeing it, touching it, juicing it, drinking the juice and juice accidentally squirting in their eye, to emphasize how emotional and tight to their physical sensations imagery is.
From there, the researchers were able to encourage them to fully imagine and embrace their own goals.
For example, the participants imagined what would losing weight enable them to do that they can’t do now and what would that look/sound/ smell like. They were encouraged to use all of their senses.
Everyday behaviors and optional app support are used to cue imagery practice until it becomes a cognitive habit.
Maximum contact time was four hours of individual consultation, and neither group received any additional dietary advice or information.
Unlike most studies, it provided no diet/physical activity advice or education.
People were completely free in their choices and supported in what they wanted to do, not what a regimen prescribed.
The researchers found after six months, people who used the FIT intervention lost an average of 4.11kg, compared with an average of 0.74kg among the MI group.
Moreover, after 12 months, the FIT group continued to lose weight, with an average of 6.44kg lost compared with 0.67kg in the MI group.
The team says that most people agree that in order to lose weight, you need to eat less and exercise more, but in many cases, people simply aren’t motivated enough to heed this advice.
FIT comes in with the key aim of encouraging someone to come up with their own imagery of what change might look and feel like to them, how it might be achieved and kept up, even when challenges arise.
The researchers say that FIT is based on two decades of research showing that mental imagery is more strongly emotionally charged than other types of thought.
It uses imagery to strengthen people’s motivation and confidence to achieve their goals and teaches people how to do this for themselves, so they can stay motivated even when faced with challenges.
The lead author of the study is Dr. Linda Solbrig from the School of Psychology.
The study is published in the International Journal of Obesity.
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