Staying focused is essential for any weight-loss journey. You might be working on creating healthy habits like eating more high-quality protein and sipping water throughout the day, but progress can stall if your motivation wanders. One way to give yourself a boost, however, is with functional imagery training, aka FIT.
“FIT is a unique approach to behavior change that uses mental imagery to increase your motivation,” says Tamar Samuels, RD, a registered dietitian and founder of All Great Nutrition based in New York City. Moreover, research shows mental imagery (picturing your dream bod) elicits more positive emotion than other type of thought (like comparing yourself to others). Practitioners have used FIT to successfully tweak their eating habits, workout more and even combat addiction.
Athletes have been using visualization practices to enhance their mind-body connection for decades, adds Robert Herbst, a personal trainer, 19-time world champion powerlifter and member of the AAU Strength Sports Hall of Fame. “FIT is an example of what is old is new again,” he says.
Here’s what you need to know about FIT and how you can use it to hack your motivation and shed those last few pounds.
HOW DOES FIT WORK?
FIT is based on the theory of elaborated intrusion (EI), which postulates that cravings and desires are triggered by internal cues (like hunger or a memory of your favorite childhood snack) or external cues (a table full of appetizers or the smell of fried food), explains Kris Boksman, PhD, clinical psychologist and director of Limestone Clinic in Kingston, Ontario. Once these cues have captured your attention, automatic thoughts flood your mind until you fill your plate or head for the drive-thru.
However, with FIT, you can give yourself a speedy intervention, overriding these intrusive thoughts with more powerful mental images. “Everyday behaviors (like sitting down for a meal) are used to cue imagery practice until it becomes a cognitive habit,” says Samuels. “Eventually, you’re trained to be your own FIT therapist, building self-efficacy and making long-term changes more achievable.”
The payoff is real — people who practiced FIT lost four times more weight than those who didn’t during a six-month weight-loss intervention, according to an article published in the International Journal of Obesity.
KNOW YOUR ‘WHY’
Start by visualizing the reason you’re trying to lose weight, whether that’s an image of you fitting into your favorite outfit, having energy to keep up with the kids, receiving a clean bill of health from your doctor or being strong enough to lift heavy weights.
Add FIT to your daily routine by writing down positive statements to reflect those goals, then picture how you’ll look and feel once you’ve succeeded. Flood your mind with feel-good images to build a vision of what’s most motivating or exciting to you, says Boksman.
CHECK IN AT THE DINNER TABLE
Weave this practice throughout your day by returning to these mental images before each meal. As you envision yourself reaching your goals, you’ll better connect the ‘why’ of your weight loss to healthy choices, says Boksman. Reframe those leafy greens on your plate by viewing them as a nourishing step toward your dream situation, rather than a source of deprivation.
BEAT BACK CRAVINGS
Cravings can feel nearly impossible to ignore, especially when you’re low on sleep or have a high-stress day. But rather than succumbing to the urge for that candy bar or bag of chips, take a moment to visualize what you’re working toward. For example, if you know you tend to snack when leaving the office, set an alarm and spend two minutes imagining how great it will be to wear shorts without feeling self-conscious, suggests Boksman. Just one session of FIT can help you eat less of your go-to high-sugar, high-fat snacks and lose weight, according to one study.
POWER THROUGH TOUGH WORKOUTS
Another way you can use FIT is to reframe the way you view a challenging sweat session. Think of the gym not as a place for drudgery and discomfort, but where you become stronger and fitter as your body adapts to the demands of exercise, says Herbst.
As you push yourself, it might be tempting to picture the relief of giving up or slowing down. Instead, use the power of your imagination. See your muscles growing, your body becoming more toned and your friends and family recognizing the hard work you’ve put in. Keep visualizing the finish line, whatever that means to you, adds Herbst.