Earlier this year, Celebrity Angels caught up with UK TV favourite Denise Welch to discuss her weight loss journey. Now, we get expert advice on the technique she says helped her lose weight and—more importantly—keep it off.
What is cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)?
CBT is a simple and hugely effective type of talking therapy that’s rapidly become the go-to treatment for a wide range of mental health issues. Its popularity began in the UK in 2004, when NICE (the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) recommended the NHS use it for treating mild and moderate anxiety and depression.
It’s now suggested for many other conditions, both physical—like chronic fatigue syndrome (ME), chronic pain, and insomnia—and psychological, including anxiety, OCD, eating disorders, drug and alcohol problems, phobias and obesity.
How does it work?
CBT is all about learning to think differently, which helps you change how you feel and how you do things—for the better. People often get upset about what they think something means, a passing comment made in the moment can be interpreted in the mind into something colossal. CBT gives you a set of tools for challenging these negative, self-defeating thoughts and beliefs, which opens up the possibility of reacting differently.
In a nutshell, CBT helps you feel better and act better by enabling you to think better.
Unlike ‘traditional’ Freudian-style therapy, CBT is quite short (usually a few weeks rather than years), it’s highly structured and goal-based (rather than clients setting the agenda by talking to their therapist about whatever is on their mind).
It’s also far more concerned with managing what is going on for the person today rather than what’s happened in the past—less ‘Tell me about your childhood every day until 2025’ and more ‘OK, so let’s work out a strategy to deal with it now.’
What is the science behind CBT?
Psychologists in the 40s and 50s were already exploring how people interpreted what was going on around them, but it was in the 60s that American psychiatrist Aaron T Beck developed these ideas into what we now know as CBT, initially as a treatment for depression.
To the astonishment of the psychiatric establishment, Beck discovered that depressed people could feel better with just 10-12 sessions of CBT, instead of spending years in Freudian-based psychoanalysis, endlessly searching for and mulling over the repressed feelings and ideas believed to underlie many types of mental health issues.
Since Beck’s initial studies were published, CBT has become the mostly highly researched type of talking therapy in the world, with many hundreds of scientific studies demonstrating its effectiveness.
How can CBT help people to lose weight and keep it off?
What makes CBT so effective for managing obesity is that it goes beyond the usual quick-fix diet focus on food, instead dealing with the underlying emotional triggers as to why we overeat.
At its most basic level, CBT can help you lose more weight by keeping you on track for your goals. One key way it does this is by helping you challenge those negative, sabotaging thoughts:
‘I’m so stressed out, I’ll die if I don’t have some chocolate/crisps/wine… I’ve been good all day, I deserve a treat.’
CBT enables you to check the reality—are you really going to die for lack of a few grams of sugar, and is breaking your day’s dieting success with a pile of chips really a treat, or more an act of subconscious sabotage?
And when it comes to the holy grail of long-term weight maintenance, CBT again steps up to the plate (as it were). Studies show that most people who diet will regain any lost weight within a year, generally because they’ve not learned to spot, challenge and disprove those old, ‘automatic’ thoughts and bad eating habits.
Through a combination of diet and CBT, however, this statistic can be hugely improved, as CBT enables people to identify, challenge and reshape those habits to keep their weight off in the long term.
How does group therapy help people to lose weight?
When you do CBT in a group, you all benefit from sharing each other’s experiences and insights, and this can help you reach your own, individual ‘light-bulb’ moments far more quickly than going it alone. And of course, being part of a group means you get the support and friendship from your fellow group members, which can make all the difference to your motivation.
How important is it to set goals on a weight-loss journey?
Goals are a key part of CBT. With any journey, if you don’t have a destination in mind, how do you know when you’ve arrived? Goals help you turn dreams into reality and using SMART goal-setting tools can help you get there.
So make sure your goal is:
Specific (describes what you want to achieve e.g. I want to lose six kilograms by my summer holidays)
Measurable (so you can track your progress—here by weighing, measuring or simply seeing how tight your jeans feel)
Acceptable (yes, losing weight is something you really, really want)
Realistic (it’s got to be attainable—you’re not going to drop four stones in a week unless you start shedding limbs)
Time-bound (having a target date to aim for helps you focus and keeps you motivated).
Get SMART, get CBT and give yourself the gift of long-lasting weight loss.
Unfortunately, even though CBT has been described as ‘an ideal tool’ to use in weight management, it isn’t yet widely available on the NHS to treat obesity—although it is offered by specialist weight-loss programmes such as the holistic LighterLife Programme, which includes CBT and highly effective weight-loss plans.
At LighterLife, we totally understand the risks of being overweight and obese. That’s why we’ve developed a programme that helps you get the weight off as quickly and effectively as possible, and then helps you keep it off, so you can enjoy the health benefits that sustainable weight loss brings—for good.