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Clinical research

Functional imagery training versus motivational interviewing for weight loss: a randomised controlled trial of brief individual interventions for overweight and obesity



Functional Imagery Training (FIT) is a new brief motivational intervention based on the Elaborated Intrusion theory of desire. FIT trains the habitual use of personalised, affective, goal-directed mental imagery to plan behaviours, anticipate obstacles, and mentally try out solutions from previous successes. It is delivered in the client-centred style of Motivational Interviewing (MI). We tested the impact of FIT on weight loss, compared with time- and contact-matched MI.


We recruited 141 adults with BMI (kg/m²) ≥25, via a community newspaper, to a single-centre randomised controlled trial. Participants were allocated to one of two active interventions: FIT or MI. Primary data collection and analyses were conducted by researchers blind to interventions. All participants received two sessions of their allocated intervention; the first face-to-face (1 h), the second by phone (maximum 45 min). Booster calls of up to 15 min were provided every 2 weeks for 3 months, then once-monthly until 6 months. Maximum contact time was 4 h of individual consultation. Participants were assessed at Baseline, at the end of the intervention phase (6 months), and again 12 months post-baseline.

Main outcome measures

Weight (kg) and waist circumference (WC, cm) reductions at 6 and 12 months.


FIT participants (N = 59) lost 4.11 kg and 7.02 cm of WC, compared to .74 kg and 2.72 cm in the MI group (N = 55) at 6 months (weight mean difference (WMD) = 3.37 kg, p < .001, 95% CI [−5.2, −2.1], waist-circumference mean difference (WCMD) = 4.3 cm, p < .001, 95% CI [−6.3,−2.6]). Between-group differences were maintained and increased at month 12: FIT participants lost 6.44 kg (W) and 9.1 cm (WC) compared to the MI who lost .67 kg and 2.46 cm (WMD = 5.77 kg, p < .001, 95% CI [−7.5, −4.4], WCMD = 6.64 cm, p < .001, 95% CI [−7.5, −4.4]).


FIT is a theoretically informed motivational intervention which offers substantial benefits for weight loss and maintenance of weight reduction, compared with MI alone, despite including no lifestyle education or advice.

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We would like to thank the research assistants who have tirelessly supported this project: Despina Djama, Lloyd Taylor, Kirsten Woodman, and Marina Khalil.


This research was funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Collaboration for Leadership in Applied Health Research and Care South West Peninsula.

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Correspondence to Jackie Andrade.

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Solbrig, L., Whalley, B., Kavanagh, D.J. et al. Functional imagery training versus motivational interviewing for weight loss: a randomised controlled trial of brief individual interventions for overweight and obesity. Int J Obes 43, 883–894 (2019).

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