Behavioral Treatment of Obesity: How it Works

My Bariatric Life Health Guide

    weight loss, my bariatric life


    Behavioral therapy teaches healthy habits such
    as managing stress without turning to food.



    In a prior post, Behavioral Therapy for Weight Loss May Benefit Most Americans, I wrote that behavioral therapy was recommended for a great many people seeking to successfully combat their overweight condition. I also wrote about some of the problems in administering such counseling but did not detail exactly what to expect from the therapy. Therefore, I will now detail what to anticipate from behavioral treatment of obesity.


    The Behavioral Treatment Approach to Weight Loss

    Behavioral Treatment of Obesity is meant to help people develop the skills they need to achieve a more healthy weight. The discipline helps people to understand not only what changes need to be made but what needs be done to facilitate those changes through the use of self-monitoring, goal setting, and problem solving. 

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    Behavioral treatment of obesity came to be based on the belief that obesity is the result of maladaptive eating and exercise habits that could be corrected through an administration of learning principles. Since the conception of the approach, researchers have come to realize that obesity is the product of factors that go beyond behavior, and include genetics, metabolism, and hormonal influences. Behavioral therapy for weight loss remains useful in that it can be used to help people develop skills to achieve a healthier weight.


    Behavioral treatment of obesity has its roots in classical conditioning. Classical conditioning is based on the belief that cues become strongly associated with the consumption of food. Patients are helped to identify those cues that trigger maladaptive eating and apply new and appropriate responses.


    The Bones of Behavioral Treatment

    Behavioral treatment is constructed of a few components. The first component is that the treatment is goal-directed. The goals are clear and can be easily measured. Specific goals provide clarity for successes.


    Behavioral treatment is process oriented. It not only helps with decisions about what needs to be changed but helps to identify what needs to be done to promote those changes. Goals are established and patients then begin to examine what will help achieve those goals and what could prevent them. If a target behavior is not realized, problem-solving skills will be applied to help establish new strategies. Thus, weight management becomes the result of established and successful skills.


    Behavioral treatment emphasizes small successes over large ones. Measured steps are taken that will help achieve greater goals in the future. Small changes provide successes that patients can build upon rather than greater but unsustainable victories.


    Behavioral treatment of obesity includes self-monitoring through the keeping of food and activity journals. Stimulus control is used to address cues that are associated with eating, and cognitive restructuring involves nutrition education, how to slow eating, physical activity, and problem solving.


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    It Doesn’t Have to Be All About Pounds

    Expectations should be realistic. A patient’s desired weight loss may be over-ambitious, and the clinician should help establish more probable goals. The value of non-weight outcomes should be brought to light as well. There is much to be said for improved blood pressure and improved stamina.


    Finally, patients should be reminded that their is more to them than just pounds and inches.   


    Living larger than ever,

    My Bariatric Life


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    The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition     

Published On: November 23, 2014