Athletes use visualization to help them mentally rehearse and prepare for competition. Now “if you see it, you can achieve it” might be the mantra when it comes to weight loss as well, according to a recent study published in the International Journal of Obesity.
University of Plymouth (UK) researchers split a group of 141 overweight adults into two groups. One learned a technique called motivational interviewing, a practice that involves seeing a counselor who collaborates with you to make a behavioral change.
The second group took motivational interviewing a step further and learned Functional Imagery Training (FIT). “FIT uses mental imagery to strengthen motivation and confidence in change,” explains study co-author Jackie Andrade, PhD. It’s based on the theory mental imagery is more emotionally charged than other kinds of thinking.
After six months, those who learned FIT lost an average of nine pounds — five more pounds than the group that learned motivational interviewing. When the researchers followed up with both groups in another six months, the FIT group had lost an additional five pounds, while the other group had gained a little weight.
“FIT increases the desire for weight-loss behaviors such as healthy eating and exercising, and teaches imagery strategies that people can use to keep themselves motivated,” says Andrade.
Moreover, additional research has found mental imagery may help individuals curb cravings, increase fruit consumption and stick to a weight-loss program.
“Visualization has been shown to be effective for improving goal-related behavior,” says Barbel Knauper, PhD, a McGill University professor of psychology. “If people utilize the powers of visualization, it can help translate their intentions — such as taking smaller portions at dinner — into action, ultimately leading to weight loss.”
If you want to give visualization a stab, try these three strategies:
For example, as you visualize taking that morning walk, how do the different muscles in your body feel? What noises do you hear? What do you see as you go along your block? Can you smell the morning dew or wet leaves?
Imagine yourself at your goal weight. Visualize how your muscles are defined and what you can accomplish — whether that’s running your first 5K or building up to a half-marathon. See yourself in your favorite pair of jeans that fit again or the dress you want to wear to a friend’s wedding. Picturing clear, vivid images helps positively influence your mind so you can achieve the goals you see.
This boosts your confidence that you are someone who can succeed and keep the momentum going, says Andrade. For example, imagining how good you felt when you logged food and exercised to meet your daily calorie goal can help incentivize you to have more days where you do that again.