Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) uses thinking and rationale to help change behavior. It is not considered just a method of "positive thinking," but rather focuses on balanced thoughts and how they contribute to a situation. CBT may be used in conjunction with diet and exercise for weight loss.
According to the Weight-Control Information Network, 68 percent of people in the United States are considered to be overweight, with over 33 percent of these people classified as obese. Losing weight and keeping it off long term can be extremely difficult, as people tend to return to habitually negative patterns of eating. Overweight and obesity is linked to numerous chronic health problems, many of which can be avoided or significantly reduced by managing weight levels. By using CBT while making positive physical changes, you may be more likely to succeed with permanent weight loss.
How it Works
When trying to lose weight, CBT may help you to consider your motives for overeating and to overcome thoughts that take you away from making the right choices. A behavioral therapist or coach can work with you to teach CBT and provide guidance for making good choices. You may learn about how to incorporate healthy eating habits into your lifestyle, and how to develop an exercise plan and a schedule to keep track of how often you are working out. These lifestyle modifications are used in conjunction with CBT in order to have a higher rate of success. The goal is to change your lifestyle and physical habits and to support those changes through your thinking.
You may meet with a therapist or behavior coach once a week, although some people may need more frequent contact. Some therapists offer weekly meetings in person but are also available for contact through emails or phone calls if you find that you are struggling. Your therapist will help you analyze what situations you find yourself rationalizing unhealthy behavior. She can then teach you about how to reorder your thinking to fit with your weight loss goals. For example, you may be tempted to overeat at a party, rationalizing that it is a celebration, so you will let yourself cheat for one occasion. With CBT, you may learn how to change your thinking habits to consider the consequences of your behavior and to remember your overall goals. You can then combine this thinking with your healthy eating habits to move closer to your goal weight.
According to the Association for Cognitive and Behavioral Therapies, CBT is a form of therapeutic intervention that is effective in treating many different types of psychological disorders. Additionally, CBT can help you lose weight by teaching you to:
- Determine how your thoughts influence your feelings, both negatively and positively
- Understand the difference between your thoughts and your feelings and how that affects your eating patterns
- Consider other rationale to counteract some of your automatic, negative reactions to eating
- Learn how to break into negative thinking patterns as they occur to replace them with positive associations
Although you may work with a cognitive therapist to help you achieve your weight goals, you must still learn many tactics to do the work on your own. Because you are responsible for your own thoughts, you can learn CBT techniques to use, practice them on your own, and then meet with your therapist to discuss your results and your weight loss progress.
Judith Beck, PhD., the director of the Beck Institute for Cognitive Therapy and Research, states that there are several successful CBT techniques that can be incorporated into diet and exercise regimens that can help you become more successful at losing weight and keeping it off:
- Providing education about how to modify your approaches in response to negative thought patterns about eating
- Monitoring your environment and planning ahead for times when you may struggle with overeating
- Using a diet coach or therapist initially and then gradually transitioning to a supportive friend who can keep you accountable in your weight maintenance
- Experimenting with feeling hungry or having a craving, so you learn that you do not have to be afraid of feeling hungry
- Writing down the skills you have learned and tactics to employ so that you will make permanent lifestyle changes, keeping your weight off for the long-term
CBT helps you to be mindful of your eating practices by being aware of not only how much you eat, but why you are eating. You may choose to eat out of boredom or depression, rather than true physiological hunger. By thinking about your reasons for eating, you can determine if you really need food for hunger or if you are eating for emotional reasons. You can then choose to eat only if you feel physically hungry, and reduce your overall intake, leading you closer to your weight loss goals.