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Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is a 'talking therapy' that focuses on how your thoughts, feelings and attitudes affect how you feel and behave.2 It teaches you coping skills for dealing with specific problems. Experts say it may be an effective therapy for weight loss because it focuses on making permanent lifestyle behavioural changes.
One 2016 study found that CBT improved weight loss and quality of life in women with polycystic ovary syndrome, a condition caused by an imbalance of reproductive hormones that increases the risk of obesity.3
A study, published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition,4 found that 10 weeks of CBT followed by 10 weeks of fortnightly telephone sessions improved weight loss in overweight adolescents. Another trial found that individual sessions of CBT promoted effective but small weight loss in middle-aged women, as well as changes in their quality of life.5
There are countless ways to lose weight in the short term, with crash diets and intense bursts of exercise. But further down the line, weight is likely to creep back on as people slip back into old eating and activity habits.
Research suggests it gets even harder to lose weight the more overweight you are. A study, published in the American Journal of Public Health,6 found that obese women have a one in 124 chance of losing weight. Whilst for men, it's even harder, with a one in 210 likelihood of dropping to a healthy weight.
CBT works by changing how you think and how you behave in certain situations. It can help you examine the thought patterns and emotional processes that may be sabotaging your weight loss efforts, whilst also changing lifestyle behaviours you may have developed in response to those, such as overeating and not doing any activity. Over time, setting practical goals can help weight loss feel more manageable.7
You can learn CBT in individual sessions with a therapist, as part of a group, or through online tutorials. With one-to-one sessions, you will usually meet your therapist for between five and 20 weekly or fortnightly sessions which may last between 30 and 60 minutes. If you think CBT may be helpful, speak to your GP.
Here are some practical ways to apply CBT to weight loss:
Jo Waters is a health writer who has contributed to a variety of newspapers and magazines including the Daily Mail, Mirror, Nurture Magazine and the Express.
See more of Jo Waters' work.
Nothing beats a healthy, balanced diet to provide all the nutrients we need. But when this isn’t possible, supplements can help. This article isn’t intended to replace medical advice. Please consult your healthcare professional before trying supplements or herbal medicines.
IntroUK prevalence and Trends, NOO
2Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), Mind
3Cognitive behavioral therapy improves weight loss and quality of life in women with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), Fertility and Sterility
4Cognitive behavioral therapy improves diet and body composition in overweight and obese adolescents, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition
5Brief cognitive-behavioral therapy for weight loss in midlife women: a controlled study with follow-up, International journal of women's health.
6Probability of an Obese Person Attaining Normal Body Weight:Cohort Study Using Electronic Health Records, AFHA Publications
7Using goal setting as a strategy for dietary behavior change, American Dietetic Association