Why Does Therapy Help You Lose Weight?
Nearly 70% of adults in America are considered overweight or obese. With the number of overweight individuals growing every year in this country, it is becoming more obvious that the traditional routes of weight-loss (diets, exercise, etc.) are not cutting it. But the issue with being overweight is not simply aesthetics in terms of body shape and size. Being overweight is a serious health risk as it can lead to other medical problems such as diabetes, high blood pressure, sleep apnea, kidney disease, certain types of cancer, and many more. Not only does being overweight increase the risk for medical/physical problems, but also mental health problems. In general, people who are overweight tend to struggle with low self-esteem, increased anxiety, and depression. Clearly, being overweight can significantly impact a person’s life, and seeking a non-traditional approach to weight loss might be the key to success.
Weight loss therapy is a form of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which is an approach to psychotherapy used to treat a multitude of issues. Cognitive behavioral therapy helps people increase awareness to, and eventually challenge and change, the negative cognitions (or thoughts) that often drive the “unhealthy” behaviors. CBT can also help people get to the core of the problem, as the relationship with food is often just the symptom of a deeper issue.
Recently, the scientific and medical communities have begun to sing the praises of CBT for weight loss benefits. Several large profile studies have detailed the effectiveness of cognitive behavioral therapy as a supplement to traditional diet and exercise. The studies have shown that patients using CBT in addition to diet and exercise showed more dramatic and long-lasting changes to their overall body composition than those that used just diet and exercise, or just cognitive behavioral therapy.
While CBT can be a great addition to one’s weight loss journey, it is not necessarily a substitute for healthy lifestyle decisions such as getting appropriate amounts of exercise or choosing foods that support the weight loss goals.
Methods Used in Weight Loss Therapy
Upon the initial meeting with a weight loss therapist, they will likely conduct an assessment. An assessment typically consists of questions about physical and mental health history, relationship to food, and lifestyle choices.
Long-term goals for weight loss and food/exercise will also be established in the initial session. In subsequent meetings, the long-term goals will be broken down into smaller steps to create a sort-of action plan as to how the goals will be achieved. Through a series of lifestyle changes including meal planning (which is individually tailored to the client and their specific goals), and following an exercise program, weight loss can be achieved. In addition to lifestyle changes, working with a weight loss therapist can help increase one’s understanding about their relationship to food, and identify any underlying issues that might contribute to weight gain, overeating, negative body image, etc.
Although all therapists are different, CBT for weight loss typically involves one or many of the following approaches or strategies:
- Goal setting
- Feedback and reinforcement
- Increasing personal motivation and belief in self
Upon achieving weight loss/body composition goals, the therapist may continue to guide you on healthy lifestyle choices, and tools and skills to help with maintenance.
Post-Pandemic Impact on Weight Loss TeleTherapy
The pandemic and subsequent lockdown required everyone to find creative ways to connect and continue working, attending school, and engaging in daily life. The same can be said for mental health and medical services. Shifting from in-person meetings to online left many skeptical about the efficacy of telemedicine appointments, especially when it came to modalities like weight loss therapy. Yet, post-pandemic research indicates much of the skepticism was unwarranted.
In fact, many benefits were found with using telemedicine including ease of access and increased weight loss. Tele-therapy proved essential for those in more rural communities; as well as allowed for the possibility of longer-term interventions; participation in groups; and for many was the preferred format. More significantly multiple studies showed participants in weight loss therapy were more likely to lose up to 5% of their body weight when participating in telemedicine sessions when compared to regular, in-person sessions. More research continues to emerge, but initial studies show weight loss therapy delivered via telemedicine can lead to clinically significant weight loss, greater access to services, and an overall increase in participation.
Why Hire a Therapist?
Many who struggle with extra weight or obesity have a significantly difficult time losing weight, likely trying multiple methods, such as programs like Weight Watchers and Jenny Craig, or through attempts at following a diet and exercise plan. Trying to lose weight can be a frustrating and overwhelming process, but you do not have to do it alone. Asking for the support of a weight loss therapist might be the next step.
Finding a qualified therapist can help to hold you accountable and assist you in achieving your goals.
In addition, if you struggle with body image issues or your relationship to food, therapy is vital. Issues such as emotional eating are difficult to conquer alone. Emotional eaters may rely on food for a variety of reasons, from seeking comfort to using food as a way to cope with difficult feelings, or even using food as a way to “punish” themselves. Emotional eaters, whether they recognize it or not, use food to satisfy some deeper-rooted emotional issue(s), and are essentially feeding their “emotional hunger” rather than physical hunger needs. Unfortunately, many emotional eaters end up feeling powerless over food, and thus, find it near impossible to make any change without outside help.
What to Look for When Finding a Therapist
When searching for a therapist, it’s important to look for one that is the best fit for your needs. Meet with more than one therapist if they exist in your area, and choose the one that you are happiest with and that you believe will be the biggest asset in helping you lose the weight, for good. Search TherapyTribe to find a weight loss therapist near you.
- Castelnuovo, G., Pietrabissa, G., Manzoni, G., et. al. (2017). Cognitive behavioral therapy to aid weight loss in obese patients: Current perspectives. Psychology Research and Behavior Management. 10, 165-173.
- Miller, W., Koceja, D., & Hamilton, E. (1997). A meta-analysis of the past 25 years of weight loss research using diet, exercise, or diet plus exercise intervention. International Journal of Obesity. 21, 941-947.
- van Strien, T., (2018). Causes of emotional eating and matched treatment of obesity. Current Diabetes Reports, 18(6), 35.
- Ufholz K., & Bhargava, D. (2021) A review of telemedicine interventions for weight loss. Current Cardiovascular Risk Rep. 15(9):17