Friday, 9 November 2007

Emotional eaters most prone to regaining weight

Emotional eaters most prone to regaining weight
Updated Fri. Nov. 9 2007 News Staff

People who overeat when they are depressed or anxious tend to have the hardest time losing weight and keeping it off, finds a new U.S. study published in the journal Obesity.

The study, led by Heather Niemeier, an obesity researcher at The Miriam Hospital and The Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University, may explain why even those people who are able to lose weight often gain it all back during times of stress.

"We found that the more people report eating in response to thoughts and feelings, such as, 'When I feel lonely, I console myself by eating,' the less weight they lost in a behavioural weight loss program," Niemeier said in a statement.

"In addition, amongst successful weight losers, those who report emotional eating are more likely to regain."

Having the finding confirmed in their study is important, the authors note, because one of the greatest challenges facing the field of obesity treatment remains the problem of regaining weight after losing it.

"Participants in behavioural weight loss programs lose an average of 10 per cent of their body weight and these losses are associated with significant health benefits. Unfortunately, the majority of participants return to their baseline weight within three to five years," Niemeier says.

For the study, 286 overweight men and women were asked to participate in a behavioural weight loss program. Niemeier and her team analyzed responses to a questionnaire, called the Eating Inventory.

Specifically, Niemeier and her team focused on the "disinhibition" component of the Eating Inventory, which evaluates impulsive eating in response to emotional, cognitive, or social cues. Emotional cues would include eating when feeling lonely; cognitive cues would include using food as a reward; while social cues would include overeating at parties.

The participants were compared to a second group that included 3,300 members of the National Weight Control Registry, an ongoing study of adults who have lost at least 30 pounds and kept it off for at least one year.

Results showed that in both groups, emotional and cognitive cues were significant predictors of weight loss over time. For the first group of participants, the more a person ate for internal reasons, the less weight they lost over time. The same was true for the second group.

Interestingly, external factors did not predict weight loss or regain in either sample at any time.

"Our results suggest that we need to pay more attention to eating triggered by emotions or thoughts as they clearly play a significant role in weight loss," Niemeier said, noting that many current treatments provide minimal assistance with eating in response to feelings.

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