THE LEMON EXERCISE:

INTRODUCING MULTISENSORY IMAGERY

Because imagery is core to FIT, it is important to establish the client’s understanding of imagery and, if necessary, introduce the idea that effective imagery is multisensory and emotional. Acknowledgement of the client’s understanding of imagery is important to continue with the spirit of partnership and acceptance and avoid the client feeling judged for their lack of knowledge about mental imagery.

 

The lemon exercise allows the client to experience multisensory imagery and understand how this can elicit emotions and physical reactions, before progressing to more challenging imagery of their current concerns.

 

Here is an example of how you might introduce it.

 

 

Interviewer: Before we carry on talking about your diet goal, I’d like to talk to you about mental imagery because it is a key part of this intervention. I’d like to introduce mental imagery and show you how it can be useful to help change portion size, if you don’t mind?

Client: Yeah, that’s fine.

Interviewer: If I talk about imagery, what does that mean to you?

Client: Is it when you picture things in your head?

Interviewer: Yes, that is it. Do you sometimes do that?

Client: Maybe when I’m planning something like a holiday, and I imagine what would be fun to do

Interviewer: That’s a really good example. So when I say mental imagery I don’t only mean pictures in your head. So it’s also like you said, imagining how good you’ll feel to go on the holiday. It’s also what you hear, see, feel, smell, and touch – imagining things with all your senses. Imagery is an important part of motivation, so would you mind if we do a short exercise together to practice a little?

The Lemon Exercise


The lemon exercise (based on an idea from Emily Holmes and Andrew Mathews) illustrates to the client that mental imagery involves more than just a picture in one’s head. It exemplifies that the use of the other senses, such as taste and touch, can elicit stronger feelings. In our experience, clients enjoy this exercise and it is worth taking the time to run through it because it gives them confidence to indulge fully in the subsequent imagery exercises, rather than rushing through them.

Interviewer: Gaze off towards the wall as you do this exercise. You can close your eyes or leave them open. Please try and use all your senses when you are imagining the scene I will be describing. Make it as vivid as you can, as though it were happening to you right now.

 

The interviewer then continues; with about a 3 second pause after each statement:

Interviewer: Imagine holding a lemon…

Picture it as vividly as you can, what it looks like, the texture of the skin, whether there is any stem…

Whether the colour is the same across the whole lemon…is there any light or shade on it…

Imagine holding it close up, so you can see every feature…

Now I want you also to imagine what it feels like to hold it…

Imagine what the texture of the lemon feels like…

The weight of the lemon in your hand… Its shape…

You throw it up and catch it…

Keep the picture of the lemon there in your imagination….

Imagine holding the lemon next to your nose. That fresh, tangy smell…

Now, imagine cutting it with a knife. Think about how the knife feels, as you grip it and carefully cut the lemon in two. You might hear a slight rasping sound as you do that…

Small drops of juice come out as you cut it…maybe your hand feels a little wet…

Imagine what the halves look like—the segments, the texture of the inside of the lemon, white pith…

Now you hold half of the lemon to your nose. Smell the juice…

Imagine wiping your finger across the surface, and putting a drop on your tongue. A fresh, acidic taste. Imagine swallowing it, and feeling it going down your throat. A cool, refreshing sensation.

Now, imagine taking one of the lemon halves in your hand. You have a glass in your other hand, and you are going to squeeze the juice into the glass…Squeezing it now, and the juice is trickling out… You can hear it going into the glass… Take a sip of the juice, and swallow that…

Go back to squeezing the lemon into the glass…

The interviewer continues speaking quickly and more loudly:

Now it squirts into your eye! It is stinging you!

Carefully observe the client for a reaction: do they wince or blink? If so continue

Interviewer: Did you notice that you winced then?

Client: Yeah I did, it felt real as if the lemon juice had actually squirted in my eye.

If there was no observable reaction, then proceed straight to using reflection to reinforce the effect of using multisensory imagery and how it can elicit both emotional and physical reactions. For example:

Interviewer: Tell me how all that felt

Client: It was really nice (laughs). I definitely did feel the acidity of the lemon in my eye. I was also hoping that it wasn’t going to be too sour when I drank it.

Interviewer: You enjoyed the different sensations. How sour was it?

Client: It was quite good. I made it quite good, I didn’t make it taste too sour.

Interviewer: You could control your image. That’s good.

 

Note: A number of participants in our weight management research have reported that, in the weeks after doing this initial exercise, images of lemons spontaneously pop into mind and that this has helped them resist cravings because they do not want to spoil the clean, fresh feeling that they are experiencing mentally. When using FIT in other domains, it may be helpful to tailor the content of this imagery training exercise to something that would be useful if recalled spontaneously.