New Mental Imagery Technique Boosted Weight Loss 5 Times More Than Talk Therapy

New Mental Imagery Technique Boosted Weight Loss 5 Times More Than Talk Therapy

By Melinda CaffertyNatural Blaze

It’s hard to heed diet goals and eat right – something inside of us kicks against our very best intentions.

But what if you could bypass the monkey-mind and go straight to the heart by using mental imagery to affect profound change?

A novel form of visualization called Functional Imagery Training (FIT) helped overweight people lose five times more weight than those using talk therapy alone.

The new research was published today by the University of Plymouth and Queensland University.

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GNN reports:

[…] users of FIT lost 1.6 more inches (4.3cm) around their waist circumference in six months – and continued to lose weight after the intervention had finished.

The research involved 141 participants, who were allocated either to FIT or Motivational Interviewing (MI) – a technique that sees a counsellor support someone to develop, highlight and verbalize 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. Everyday behaviors and optional app support are used to cue imagery practice until it becomes a cognitive habit.


The study showed how – after six months – people who used the FIT intervention lost an average of 9 pounds (4.11kg), compared with an average of 1.6 pounds (0.74kg) among the MI group.

After 12 months – six months after the intervention had finished – the FIT group continued to lose weight, with an average of 14.2 pounds (6.44kg) lost compared with 1.48 pounds (0.67kg) in the MI group.

Users of this new motivational intervention only needed four hours of consultation time at maximum! 

That is a far cry from traditional talk therapy.

Additionally, there was no preaching of any kind of dietary advice – in other words, no particular diet or foods were recommended. Presumably, participants were able to achieve their own directed eating goals after using mental imagery.

Dr Solbrig, who was funded in part by The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Collaboration for Leadership in Applied Health Research and Care (CLAHRC) South West Peninsula, said:

It’s fantastic that people lost significantly more weight on this intervention, as, 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.

Success Stories

FIT study participant Trisha Bradbury said:

I lost my mum at 60, and being 59 myself with a variety of health problems, my motivation was to be there for my daughter. I kept thinking about wearing the dress I’d bought for my daughter’s graduation, and on days I really didn’t feel like exercising, kept picturing how I’d feel.

I’ve gone from 14 stone [196 lbs] to 12 stone 2 [170 lbs] and have managed to lower the dosage I need for my blood pressure tablets. I’d still like to lose a touch more, but I’m so delighted with the mind-set shift.

Dr Solbrig continued:

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 – however much they might agree with it. So 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.

We started with taking people through an exercise about a lemon. We asked them to imagine seeing it, touching it, juicing it, drinking the juice and juice accidently squirting in their eye, to emphasise how emotional and tight to our physical sensations imagery is. From there we are able to encourage them to fully imagine and embrace their own goals. Not just ‘imagine how good it would be to lose weight’ but, for example, ‘what would losing weight enable you to do that you can’t do now? What would that look / sound / smell like?’, and encourage them to use all of their senses.

As well as being delighted by the success of the study in the short term, there are very few studies that document weight loss past the end of treatment, so to see that people continued to lose weight despite not having any support shows the sustainability and effectiveness of this intervention.

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