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Imagining the future helps women lose weight

Bariatric Surgery News & Research | Adelaide Bariatric Centre

9 Sep 2013 3:40 PM

Obesity expert Leonard Epstein

We’re always getting media messages about exercising our bodies, but how often do we think about exercising our willpower? A strong sense of discipline goes hand in hand with a strong body. Previously, scientists realised that overweight people tend to struggle with delayed gratification, that is, the no pain, no gain principle. Studies have found that overweight people are more likely to say yes to immediate pleasure even if it comes at a long-term cost.

But if willpower is not your forte, there is hope: a new study shows that behavioural intervention techniques work just as well on overweight women as they do on lean women. Researchers at University at Buffalo taught women of various body weights the technique of prospection, or mentally simulating the future. They found that those who used the technique when offered temptation were better able to exercise delayed gratification.

“This research is certainly welcome news for people who have struggled to lose weight, because it shows that when people are taught to imagine, or simulate the future, they can improve their ability to delay gratification,” says renowned obesity expert Leonard Epstein, who authored the study.

“In the current study, we show that episodic future thinking works equally well in overweight and obese women in comparison to lean women,” says Epstein. “That’s important since several studies have shown that overweight/obese women are more impulsive.”

“The fact that projecting oneself into the future and imagining future scenarios works equally well for lean and overweight/obese women is important for designing interventions to reduce impulsive decision making in women who need to lose weight.”

It’s not the first time Epstein’s team has delivered good news for overweight women: they found that these women ate less when told to imagine themselves in enjoyable future scenarios.

How to exercise delayed gratification

Confused about how to start applying these principles? The good thing is you probably already are applying them. If you’ve ever thought about how great you’re going to feel after your run to motivate yourself to lace up those shoes, then that’s prospection. Or if you have ever bought clothing a size too small as a future reward for losing weight, that’s also prospection, because you imagined your future self as a motivational tool.

The most important thing with motivation and willpower is not to do it alone. That’s why we have a trained psychologist on staff, as well as exercise counselling. And for the days you’re not visiting us, our Pinterest boards can help you remember what’s important.

Image: Obesity expert Leonard Epstein discusses behavioural techniques that anybody can learn. [ courtesy of University at Buffalo. ]