Conference calling has been used by the business community for great effect for years, but it has also been helping women and men lose weight with excellent results. As a specialist Cognitive Behavioural Therapy counsellor working on the LighterLife 2U programme, I personally support around 100 women a week this way – not meeting in person but ringing in to a small group conference call with a pin number. Already, over the last two years when we have been trialling conference call mentoring and therapy, many hundreds of clients have reached their goals and gone on to maintain their weight loss.
Each session, which is scheduled for convenient times during the day, evenings and weekends, lasts an hour and includes up to 10 people at a time.
The aim is to help people understand why they overeat and what they can do to change their attitudes and behaviour.
The group dynamic is helpful for a lot of different reasons, including the fact that you are with other people who understand what you are going through and are supportive. Wider society can be very judgemental when it comes to people who are overweight and obese and there tends to be a lot of blame and even hostility directed towards those who are above average weight for their height. Gentle peer pressure can also help people maintain their commitment and reach their goals. It also allows for the group to pick up learning points through listening to the experiences of others.
One typical group includes a businesswoman who regularly calls in from hotel rooms around the world as well as mums who need to lose babyweight, and cant get out to a face2face group, and the morbidly obese who have been told that they have to lose weight if they want to extend their life expectancy. We welcome everyone who wants to lose weight and there are different programmes for people who have more or less weight to lose in different timeframes.
The conference call model works really well because it allows people to join in and benefit from the group dynamic without having to appear in a place in person every week. It doesn’t matter that there isn’t face to face interaction although I do tend to visualise a group circle during our discussions.
Every week, we focus on a topic. Recently we looked at strategies for raising self-esteem – a major issue underlying weight problems. People who feel bad or guilty about being overweight will often turn to food as a way of comfort. There are also people who have falsely believe that they were ‘born greedy’ or ‘born fat’ and cannot change this. What we try and do is go back to basics and alter their perception that they can’t help being overweight.
And internationally published research shows that the weight loss is just as good in 2U groups as in face2face groups, the average weight loss being about a stone a month for women, and 1 ½ stone for men, on the Total VLCD plan.
Clients talk about this hour as their ‘special time’ an hour in a busy week where they can think about themselves.
Being in a telephone group means that you can really be yourself, the prejudice (both internal and external) that comes with body size just isn’t there, and that enables people to concentrate on what is being said, rather than “do they despise me because I am fat?”
Clients get to know each other well, and the camaraderie as well as the shared empathy and goals really make group time a rich experience for everyone involved.
The groups are important for weight maintenance too. Losing weight is one skill, maintaining that lost weight is another and the group work helps clients recognise their previous behaviours around food, and gives them the tools to make long term lasting changes.
We do insist that people on the programme abstain from alcohol – a source of empty calories as well as a mood depressant – and we talk about the importance of exercise, but our main goal is to take the emotional factors out of eating and let people relearn how to enjoy a sensible balanced diet.
The conference call has made a huge difference to the number of people I can reach and bring together and it is likely to become a mainstay in many people’s dieting journey in the future.