Visualization for Weight Loss: How it Helps

July 15, 2013

Visualization Using visualization, or mental imagery, to achieve success is not a new technique for athletes. In fact, some of the most elite athletes, including Michael Jordan, have attributed much of their success to visualization in their respective sports.

But you don’t have to be a sports superstar to reap the benefits of mental imagery. Visualization can also help you reach your weight loss goals.

A study published in Psychology and Health found you can significantly improve your eating habits by planning and visualizing your goals. Researchers asked students to consume more fruit than they usually would in a seven-day period. The students who wrote down their plan of action and visualized themselves consuming more fruit consumed twice as much as those who simply verbalized their plan.

Your mind is a powerful tool that can play a big role in changing your eating habits for the better. More recently, technology took visualization a step further by using virtual avatars to help women lose weight.

The research, published in the Journal of Diabetes Science and Technology, surveyed the interest of 128 women in using an avatar, which is a virtual representation of yourself, as a weight loss tool. Almost 90 percent showed interest. During the second part of the study, eight women participated in a four-week test where each watched one, 15-minute video per week of a similar-looking avatar. The avatars performed specific weight loss skills, like measuring portion sizes, snacking, exercising, and watching TV.

Although more research needs to be done to determine if avatar-based technology is an effective weight loss tool, 100 percent of the women found the exercise helpful, and the average weight loss was 3.5 pounds.

The avatars represent a technologically-advanced form of visualization, providing reinforcement of healthy habits and goals and allowing you to see a step-by-step plan in action.

At the Center for Medical Weight Loss, many physicians use visualization as a part of behavioral counseling. I highly recommend journaling, which allows you to see and count your calorie consumption. This method can be particularly helpful when you start a weight loss plan. It’s easy to open a box of crackers, for example, and mindlessly eat the entire box because you didn’t set a visible portion aside. But if you could see yourself doing it, wouldn’t you want to stop yourself?

Those who are most successful on a medical weight loss plan are those who are most aware and in tune with what they put in their bodies. Set aside a time each week to practice mental imagery and go through the following steps:

1. Close your eyes and clear your mind. Take a moment to de-clutter your brain. Stop thinking about that work email you have to answer, the phone call you have to make, the house that needs to be cleaned. This is a time to focus on you.

2. Visualize your day, focusing on your food choices. Think about the details. See yourself making positive choices, choosing healthy portion sizes. Make your visualization as accurate as possible, starting in chronological order. Start with breakfast and then make your way through the remainder of your day. What will you eat for lunch and dinner? What healthy snack choices will you make?

3. Picture yourself at your goal weight. Think about how you will look and feel. Many times, people fall short of their weight loss goals because they lose sight of the big picture. Don’t let your vision get foggy. Constantly remind yourself why you’re on your weight loss journey and how it will positively influence your health.

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