Just your imagination: How your mind can help you lose weight

WASHINGTON — Imagining your way to losing weight: It sounds hokey and impossible, but Lean Plate Club blogger Sally Squires told WTOP there’s some science behind it.

It’s important to differentiate between imagining and wishing or wanting, Squires said on Tuesday: “It’s not that you want to do it, but you imagine yourself as having done it. And then you start to think about the steps that will get you there.”

She said a number of studies are looking at the process that scientists call “episodic future thinking,” and how it can apply not only to diet but also to giving up alcohol or smoking, or to achieving any other life goal.

Researchers at the University of Buffalo picked a group of overweight and obese mothers — purposely selecting for lack of impulse control — trained them in the technique, gave them $50 per week per family member to buy groceries online and monitored what they bought.

They found the women bought an average of 14,000 calories per week per family member, as opposed to 22,000 per week for women who didn’t get the episodic future thinking training.

“It is very applicable” to everyday life, Squires said.

She emphasized again: “Imagine yourself as achieving whatever goal it is you want to do. And this isn’t saying ‘I want to do something.’ This is saying ‘I am now a marathon runner,’ or ‘I am now a person who weighs 20 pounds less,’ or whatever it is you imagine … and then think what are the steps that would get you there? What do you have to get you there? And really take it apart.”

Especially with the season of temptation approaching — office parties, holiday dinners and the like — these techniques can help you make better decisions: “What are your strategies for being the person who no longer eats those things, or doesn’t go wild on them?”

The key is having a plan — “make those smart choices not in the heat of the moment, but before you get there.”

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