Mind over Matter
The key to losing weight is simple, right?
Consume fewer calories - or burn more calories than you consume.
Sounds easy on paper but, as anyone who's ever struggled with their weight will agree, in reality it's not quite that straightforward! Especially when things like cravings, force of habit and emotional eating come into play...
And this is the thinking behind Gastric Mind Band (GMB), a weight-loss approach which has been gaining popularity over the past couple of years.
Rather than a real gastric band around your stomach, or indeed your mind, GMB is a therapy which aims to help people re-establish normal eating patterns, through techniques including self-hypnosis and cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT).
Devised by husband-and-wife hypnotherapists team Martin and Marion Shirran, who've also written a Gastric Mind Band book, it eschews calorie-counting and food deprivation in favour of tactics such as a mental 'pause button', self-hypnosis and visualisation, and recognising the difference between hunger, craving and desire to change eating habits for life.
Marion, 45, explains: "The idea is to help people address their relationship with food and make positive changes.
"It's not a diet or a temporary quick fix, and there's no list of forbidden foods that people shouldn't eat ever again, because when you deprive people of a food it makes them desire it more.
"It's about being in control of what you're eating, and making sure you're eating for the right reasons - when you're hungry, rather than when you're bored, stressed, angry or emotional.
"It's a permanent solution, because once people have changed the way they think about food they can continue with it for the rest of their lives."
And the Shirrans haven't just devised a therapy without trying it themselves - Martin, 60, weighed 17st 11lbs before starting GMB, and now weighs 13st 5lbs.
Here's an outline of the key principles to GMB...
MENTAL PAUSE BUTTONS
An important part of GMB therapy, mental 'pause buttons' are used to freeze time before people put 'dodgy food' in their mouths.
"It's to get people to stop and think about the consequences," explains Marion. "They stop for a few seconds and visualise themselves going ahead and eating the bar of chocolate or whatever, and then they fast-forward to a few minutes later and remind themselves how they'll feel if they give in to that craving. Then they come back to the present and see themselves in the alternative scenario of recognising that they don't need to eat that food, and fast-forwarding to how good they'll feel about themselves for having resisted the temptation."
The Shirrans stress that self-hypnosis, involving deep relaxation, visualisation, and reinforcement of the positive changes you're trying to make, is key.
It involves choosing up to three 'positive thoughts', like reminding yourself how bad you feel about overeating. Then self-hypnosis is achieved by slowly counting down, deep-breathing, releasing muscle tension and picturing yourself in a place where you feel at ease, like a beach or in the countryside.
Once deeply relaxed, you envisage your 'positive thoughts' as they'd be in a year's time if you don't change your eating habits, and also as they'd be if you did make positive changes. Finally, there's a new set of 'positive thoughts', with the long-term rewards of being slim and healthy outweighing the instant gratification from bad eating habits.
LOW FRUSTRATION TOLERANCE
The Shirrans say they want to encourage people to identify the 'dodgy food choices' they make, pointing out that people who have 'Low Frustration Tolerance' (LFT) to a particular item, be that food, cigarettes, alcohol or gambling, will experience cravings which they respond to immediately.
People need to recognise their personal LFT triggers, and understand that stress and boredom can play a part. Once identified, the aim is to use the 'pause button' to exercise control over the craving.
"People have an instant knee-jerk reaction to cravings for certain foods, but all they need to do is pause and walk away and resist, and it'll turn into a passing thought," promises Marion.
HUNGER, DESIRE OR CRAVING?
Also important is the need to understand the difference between hunger, desire and craving.
Hunger is a real physical sensation that can only be experienced if you haven't eaten for a few hours, whereas desire is just wanting to eat something because you like the look of it. Craving is usually for something specific, like chocolate or cake.
When you want something to eat, use the 'pause button' and ask yourself if you really are hungry, or is it a craving or desire? A craving or desire should pass quickly after using your 'pause button', and true hunger can be satisfied by making a sensible and healthy food choice.
WHAT'S YOUR MOTIVATION?
As well as the obvious - looking better and feeling healthier - there may be other, deeper, motivations to weight loss, such as wanting to buy things from a 'normal' clothes shop, or being a better role model for your children.
The Shirrans suggest such driving forces are written down somewhere that can be accessed easily, so if you're ever tempted to eat something you don't need, you can read your motivational list and remind yourself of why it's best to avoid the food.
"It's like making a commitment - almost a legally-binding document with yourself. It really works," says Marion.
To get the most out of food, the Shirrans recommend people eat slowly, and enjoy the taste, texture, smell and appearance of what they're eating. And they insist that eating healthy food slowly tastes a lot better than eating unhealthy food slowly.
"It doesn't mean you have to eat healthily 100% of the time - nobody's perfect," says Marion. "It's about getting the balance right and enjoying everything in moderation."
IT WORKED FOR ME
Katie Drew, 32, started GMB when she weighed 16st 11lb. She now weighs 9st 9lb, having lost 7st 2lb in less than a year.
Drew had tried a number of diets in the past, but either didn't lose much or lost weight then piled it all back on.
"I really wanted to try something sustainable, addressing bad eating habits, rather than providing a short-term 'sticking plaster' approach. That hasn't worked for me before," she says.
She lost almost 2st after four weeks of GMB, and then shed an average 1.5lbs a week before reaching her target.
"It was really easy - no willpower was needed at all," Drew says. "You can eat whatever food you like - as long as you're eating when you're hungry and stop when you're full. You don't feel deprived and you definitely don't feel like you've broken a diet."
She says using the 'pause button' helped her most, as it enabled her to recognise when she was about to make a bad decision and consider the consequences.
"I feel a lot more in control now. The process taught me to identify areas where I had a 'Low Frustration Tolerance' - where I was being irrational. I then used the 'pause button' to stop and consider the consequences of my actions. I realise exactly why I was overweight now - my mind was overruling signs of feeling full.
"The impact on my health has been a real positive incentive - and it's a great feeling to be able to shop in 'normal' clothes shops too."
Gastric Mind Band by Martin and Marion Shirran is published by Hay House, priced €15.95. Available now