CBT/REBT and Weight management

Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT) is one of the Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) models which states that we as human beings are biologically predetermined to take what we desire and want in life and turn it into a need. This, Albert Ellis, says is at the core of emotional and behavioural disturbance.


When we are looking at losing weight for a forthcoming event we might, for example, think;

“I want to be slim for the wedding “

This can then be turned into an absolute, a need;

“Therefore I HAVE to be slim for the wedding “

This, in turn, can throw up a whole host of emotional reactions:

Anxiety about what will happen if I am not.
Anger that I have to deprive myself.
Depression that I have let myself get over weight.
Guilt that I keep a secret supply of hobnobs in my desk.
Shame that I actually eat them and then replace them daily.
Envy about my naturally slim colleague who can eat anything she wants without gaining weight .

If, however, we are able to stop ourselves from turning our wants and desires into needs and absolutes we can experience more resourceful emotional responses such as:

Concern about what will happen if I am not.
Annoyance/Irritation that I will have to miss out on certain treats.
Sadness that I have allowed myself to gain weight over the last few years .
Remorse about the secret stash of biscuits.
Regret about the consumption of them.
Healthy envy about the slim colleague.

All of which can help motivation and are less likely to lead to self-sabotage.

We all have thoughts, behaviours , emotions and physical symptoms happening at the same time. All of these aspects interact with one another, our feelings affect our thoughts and behaviours and often we experience bodily symptoms, similarly our thoughts affect our feelings and behaviours and symptoms etc.

It is difficult to get better and achieve long term change if we seek instant emotional and symptomatic relief. However, we can change our thoughts and we can change the way we behave, which in turn affects how we feel both emotionally and physically in the long term. This is the core of REBT.

It is our beliefs about ourselves, capabilities, food, exercise and our behaviour around food, that are key in REBT’s approach to weight management.

When something happens and you have an emotional, behavioural and/or symptomatic response to, we call this the A or activating event. However, rather than make the event responsible for our emotional, behavioural or symptomatic response (called the Consequences or C in REBT) it is much accurate and more empowering to look at the beliefs (B) that we hold about the activating event . We can change those beliefs and therefore have a different emotional response. In psychological terms this is called taking emotional responsibility. Owning our response to events rather than blaming events or people for how we feel or react. This is known as the ABC of emotional disturbance.

The beliefs which provoke problems are the unhealthy ones. This comes from turning what we want into what we must or mustn’t have. For Example,

The desire: I want to be slim for my summer holidays.

This is usual and understandable, going on holiday you are likely to be wearing less clothes, meet new people, want to look your best in photographs. However, all too often this desire gets turned into:

“I MUST be slim for my holidays”

Followed by:

“It would be a total nightmare if I wasn’t “
“I couldn’t bear it if I looked fat in the photographs”
“It would prove how useless I am if I don’t lose weight for my holiday”

The result of this type of thinking is anxiety, may be depression and consequent low self-esteem.

Any weight loss plan which is underpinned by this rigid belief is likely to be doomed to failure as it too will be full of rules and be very rigid. It may achieve results in the short term but they are unlikely to be sustained.

This encapsulates the REBT unhealthy thinking of:

    Unhealthy Beliefs


  • Rigid and Absolutist
  • I or they MUST, I or they SHOULD…

  • An over exaggeration of badness
  • Its the end of the world…
    Low Frustration Tolerance

  • Inability to tolerate difficulty
  • I can’t bear it, I can’t deal with this
    Self or Other Damning

  • Negative self or other judgement
  • am a failure, no good, useless

Diets have many rules:

You absolutely shouldn’t eat chocolate.
You must only have small portions.
You must not eat carbohydrates.
You must not eat fat.
You must not exceed xxx categories.
You must exercise daily.

These are all unhealthy DEMANDS that provoke unhelpful pressure and stress.

You can challenge these with the following questions:

Where is the Law of Nature that dictates that I absolutely MUST not eat chocolate/pizza etc.?
Does telling myself I MUST not eat this and that help my well being
How do I feel when I tell myself this?
How do I behave when I tell myself this?
Does my rigid belief help me stick to my diet and achieve my long term weight loss goal?

The likelihood is that you might feel:

Deprived, and then depressed because of this.
Anger that these rules are in place and a desire to break them.
Anxiety that you wont be strong enough to keep to them.
Guilt if you do break them.
Shame about wanting to eat these foods.
Depression at the loss of treats in your life.

None of which are healthy and none of which is conducive to a healthy relationship with food. In fact this kind of thinking sets you up for a relapse. And as soon you stray or relapse:

The Awfulising kicks in –

That is the end of the world that I ate a bit of chocolate/cake etc today


The Low Frustration Tolerance

I want my chocolate/my chips my pizza. I cannot tolerate not having it when I fancy it …its unbearable …so I will have it.
And this of course is followed by self-loathing and self-disgust.


I am useless cant even stick to a diet even though I really want to be 2 stone lighter for my holidays.
I might as well give up I am not meant to be slim anyway.

This self-defeating cycle gets rolling, the healthy eating is abandoned and the goal has receded into the distance.

To break this cycle we need to change our beliefs, to listen out for those demands, those rigidly held rules and change them to the healthy, more realistic viewpoints of a healthy belief, which Albert Ellis developed as follows:

    Healthy Beliefs


  • This recognises choice and is realistic
  • I am choosing to maintain a healthy diet but I do not HAVE to

  • A realistic assessment of badness
  • If I didn’t it would be bad but not the end of the world, the next meal can be healthier, smaller.
    High Frustration Tolerance

  • The ability to tolerate difficulty
  • If I had a non eating plan day it would be difficult but not unbearable. I can bear it and get back on track. NOT GIVE UP.
    Self Acceptance

  • If I didn’t stick to my diet for one day it wouldn’t mean I was a failure. I am still a worthwhile, fallible person.

REBT is a trans-diagnostic, evidence based, philosophical CBT developed by Albert Ellis.



CCBT Newsletter

For news, insight and special offers from CCBT, please enter your email address


Download Prospectus and Application Form

Enter your details to download our prospectus and application form

  1. (required)
  2. (valid email required)
  3. Where Did You Find Us?

Click here to request prospectus and application form by post

Leave a Reply