Emotional eating is the top barrier to weight loss, according to a survey of licensed psychologists.
Almost every psychologist polled said that successful weight loss involved helping the client, “address underlying emotional issues related to weight gain”.
Emotional eating refers to eating as a way to deal with emotions, rather than hunger.
For example, someone who is bored might eat a whole packet of cookies.
Or, someone who is sad might go straight to their comfort food of pizza.
These emotional eating patterns are often learnt in childhood.
Children given sweet treats as a reward can continue this habit in adulthood.
The problem with emotional eating is that once the pleasure of eating is over, the emotional hunger remains.
Breaking the cycle of emotional eating involves identifying the feelings and situations that trigger eating and changing the habit.
The strategies that most psychologists recommend include cognitive therapy, mindfulness and problem-solving.
These were all rated either “excellent” or “good” strategies by the psychologists.
Professor Norman B. Anderson, an expert on mind/body health, said:
“Anyone who has ever tried to lose a few pounds and keep them off knows that doing so isn’t easy.
The good news is that research and clinical experience have shown that, in addition to behavioral approaches, cognitive behavioral therapy that targets emotional barriers helps people lose weight.”
The conclusions come from a survey of 1,328 licensed psychologists.
They were all asked how they helped their patients lose weight: 92% cited the need to target emotional issues.
Professor Anderson said:
“Although it is generally accepted that weight problems are most often caused by a combination of biological, emotional, behavioral and environmental issues, these new results show the key role of stress and emotional regulation in losing weight.
Therefore, the best weight loss tactics should integrate strategies to address emotion and behavior as well as lifestyle approaches to exercise and making healthy eating choices.”
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2003) and several ebooks:
- Accept Yourself: How to feel a profound sense of warmth and self-compassion
- The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic
- Spark: 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything
- Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do
The study was conducted by the Consumer Reports National Research Center for the American Psychological Association