For many people, weight loss can be hard.
There are years of habits and behaviours ingrained into your life that aren’t that easy to shake.
In a lot of cases, you already know what you need to do to lose weight – you don’t need to be told to reduce portions, to eat more vegetables, to eat less takeaway food. You’ve probably already tried to put these plans in motion, with high motivation and good intentions … until you hit a setback and you gradually start gaining the weight you lost to begin with.
What you actually need help with is how – how do you break these behaviours, that have been part of your life for as long as you can remember, so that you don’t revert back?
This is where behavioural therapies like cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) can help.
The focus of CBT is around how our thoughts, feelings and behaviours all interact. CBT is a form of psychotherapy that is a common treatment approach for a range of mental health conditions including anxiety and depression, and is based on helping the person to change unhelpful or unhealthy habits of thinking, feeling and behaving. The approach assists people to learn self-help strategies to bring about changes to their quality of life.
How CBT can help you lose weight
Firstly, we know that there are specific links between eating behaviours, thoughts, feelings and our weight.
The use of behaviour therapies such as CBT has been shown to be an effective method for managing weight. A review found that behaviour therapies improved the success of weight loss – and specifically, Cognitive Behaviour Therapy with diet and exercise led to weight loss of approximately 5kg more, when compared to diet and exercise alone.
The ABC of CBT
Albert Ellis theorised that we all hold individual assumptions about life which determine how we react to events.
For some people, these assumptions are irrational, causing the individual to react in a way that is inappropriate to the situation. These are referred to as basic irrational assumptions.
Ellis also developed the ABC Technique of Irrational Beliefs:
- A – The Activating Event;
- B – The Beliefs or thoughts that form the link between the Activating Event and the Consequences;
- C – The Consequence.
An example of this model in terms of weight management is:
- A – I ate dessert last night;
- B – I shouldn’t have eaten dessert last night, I’ve ruined my diet, why do I even try?
- C – Binge eating.
This is a common situation for people dieting – as soon as they make a small slip up, the belief is that there is no point trying anymore because they have already eaten the bad food.
As a consequence, they give up on the diet and binge eat with the intention to start fresh again.
Using the ABC model, you can look at another outcome of the same activation event. If the belief was different, for example: “It’s okay that I had dessert last night, it was a special occasion and all things are okay in moderation”, then the consequence would also be very different.
Using this model, Ellis theorised that it is the beliefs or thoughts that determine the consequence, not the event. Therefore, to start trying to change the resulting behaviour, we need to look at the thoughts behind it.
Unhelpful Thinking Styles
Unhelpful thinking is one of the major barriers people experience when it comes to changing behaviours for weight loss. Here are some examples of unhelpful thinking styles and how they may relate to your weight loss goals:
- All-or-nothing thinking or black-and-white thinking: Involves seeing one extreme or the other. For example, “I’ve already had some chips so I have blown my diet for today, I may as well eat the whole packet.”
- Mental filter: Involves ‘filtering in’ and ‘filtering out’ information and focusing on one aspect of a situation, eg “I’ve only lost 1kg this week”.
- Jumping to conclusions: When we assume that we know what someone else is thinking, and make assumptions about what will happen in the future. For example, “If I go on a diet again, I will just fail”.
- Catastrophising: Blowing things out of proportion even when the reality is that the problem itself is quite small: “If I don’t lose 5kgs, no one will like me and I will be alone”.
- Shoulding and musting: Involves using statements that put unreasonable pressure on ourselves, such as: “I should never eat carbs”.
- Over-Generalisation: When we take one instance and impose it on all current and future situations, saying “always” or “never” – for example, “I can never resist chocolate”.
- Labelling: Involves calling ourselves nasty names – such as “I am such a slob”.
- Emotional reasoning: Viewing ourselves in a way that fits how we feel – “I feel like a failure, so I will never be able to lose weight”.
- Magnification and minimisation: When we magnify positive attributes of other people, and minimise our own. “She said I looked thinner, but that doesn’t count because she is nice to everyone”.
Being able to recognise these unhelpful thinking styles is the first step towards changing them.
These thoughts tend to be habits and occur automatically, so we aren’t always aware of the damage that they might be causing.
You may realise after reading through these, that you can relate to one or a few of these styles. Once you are able to identify them, you are able to begin to challenge these thoughts and start viewing situations in a different light.
Weight loss can be hard and frustrating. Using aspects of a cognitive behaviour approach, we can work together to help you develop strategies to change your thoughts and behaviours around food and weight.
Author: Ashleigh Hamilton, BHlthSc (Nutr & Diet), MSc (Diet), APD.
Accredited Practicing Dietitian and Nutritionist, Ashleigh Hamilton, is passionate about a whole of body approach to health which encompasses both physical and mental aspects. She works with people to make lifestyle changes that will benefit their health for the future, using a range of counselling techniques including aspects of cognitive behavioural therapy, mindfulness and person-centred therapy.
To make an appointment with Brisbane Dietitian and Nutritionist, Ashleigh Hamilton, try Online Booking – Mt Gravatt or call Vision Psychology (Mt Gravatt) on (07) 3088 5422.
- Shaw, K., et al. “Psychological interventions for overweight or obesity.”Cochrane Database Syst Rev2 (2005).
- Ellis, Albert. “The revised ABC’s of rational-emotive therapy (RET).” Journal of Rational-Emotive and Cognitive-Behavior Therapy3 (1991): 139-172.
- Grilo, Carlos M., et al. “Cognitive–behavioral therapy, behavioral weight loss, and sequential treatment for obese patients with binge-eating disorder: A randomized controlled trial.” Journal of consulting and clinical psychology” 5 (2011): 675.