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Monday, July 6, 2020

On Emotional Eating

We've just had our Fourth of July weekend here in the USA, and a whole lot of eating went on (I, myself, naturally partook a considerable amount). People normally eat more whenever celebrations arise, such as birthdays and these holidays. This could even be called "celebratory eating," and while this may outwardly seem much the same as what is more familiarly known as "emotional eating," it turns out that this is rather surprisingly not the case (and not nearly the same in the long-term physiological implications when the two are compared).

The results of a recent study seem to indicate that people who engage in celebratory eating -- that is, eating in response to externally-dictated factors such as special occasions -- actually have lesser problems in dealing with weight-related issues than those people who eat in response to their emotions, i.e., motivated primarily by internal cues. The study also found out that emotional eating was associated with weight regain for those among the studied who did lose weight.

Lead author Heather Niemeier of Miriam Hospital's Weight Control and Diabetes Research Center states that they have findings that the more people report eating as a mechanism for dealing with negative thoughts and feelings, such as feeling lonely, the less weight they tend to lose in a behavioral weight loss program. The findings also showed that those who have successfully lost some weight but are still inclined toward emotional eating were more likely to regain. The authors noted this as important, since one of the greatest challenges encountered in the field of obesity remediation remains the problem of weight regain following successful weight loss. According to Niemeier, participants in behavioral weight loss programs lose an average of ten percent of their body weight, and these losses are indeed associated with significant health benefits. Unfortunately, the majority of participants return to their baseline weight within three to five years, on average.

In this particular study, the researchers analyzed the individual's responses to a certain questionnaire in widespread use in obesity research called the Eating Inventory. The Eating Inventory is a tool designed to evaluate three aspects of eating behaviors in an individual -- cognitive restraint, hunger, and disinhibition. For more specialized research, Niemeier and her team focused only on the disinhibition aspect of the Eating Inventory. While it should be noted that past studies have suggested that disinhibition as a whole is an accurate predictor of weight loss, the scale itself includes multiple factors that could separately forecast potential outcomes. Niemeier said that the disinhibition scale will evaluate the impulse eating in response to emotional, cognitive, or social cues. Their goal was to examine and isolate the factors that make up the disinhibition scale, and then determine if these factors have a specific relationship with weight loss and and subsequent weight regain.

Those included in the study were divided into two groups. The first group was composed of 286 overweight men and women who were at the time of the study participating in a behavioral weight loss program. The second group was comprised of 3,345 members of the National Weight Control Registry (NWCR), an ongoing study of adults who have lost at least thirty pounds and have kept it off for at least one year. According to the study, by examining those two different groups, they were able to evaluate the effect of disinhibition on individuals attempting to lose weight, as well as on those who are trying to maintain weight loss after some amount of weight was successfully lost. Upon further examination, the researchers found that the components within the disinhibition scale required further separation into two more distinct areas: external and internal disinhibition. External disinhibition describes experiences that are external to the individual (such as a group celebration), while internal refers to eating in response to thoughts and feelings, which equals emotional eating. The results showed that in both groups, internal disinhibition was inversely proportional to weight loss success. For those people enrolled in weight loss programs, the higher level of internal disinhibition, the less the weight that would not only be lost but also kept off over time.

This pioneering research has suggested that attention should be given to eating that is triggered by thoughts and feelings, since eating according to these motivations clearly plays a significant role in weight loss. A high level of internal disinhibition can thus be used as a strong predictor of weight issues beyond such adjunct psychological issues as depression, binge eating, and perceived stress. By further modification of therapies in order to address these triggers for unhealthy eating, obesity sufferers could learn alternative strategies to improve their ability to maintain weight-positive behaviors, even perhaps in the face of affective and cognitive difficulties.

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