Emotions Still Influential in Obesity

A Good Balance

The recent Consumer Reports National Research Center surveyed about 1,300 psychologists about the relationship between weight loss and emotions. Apparently, only 306 of them offer weight loss treatment per se, so their answers may count for more. Out of that group, according to ScienceDaily, 92% say that they help their clients address the underlying emotional issues surrounding weight.

Also, out of that group:

More than 70 percent identified cognitive therapy, problem-solving and mindfulness as ‘excellent’ or ‘good’ weight loss strategies. In addition, motivational strategies, keeping behavioral records and goal-setting were also important in helping clients to lose weight and keep it off…

Cognitive therapy helps people identify and address negative thoughts and emotions that can lead to unhealthy behaviors. Mindfulness allows thoughts and emotions to come and go without judging them, and instead concentrate on being aware of the moment.

Like motivational interviewing, cognitive behavioral counseling is what is known as an office-based approach, and has been mentioned by Childhood Obesity News before. We have also mentioned Shades of Hope Treatment Center which, like many other residential programs, includes cognitive behavioral therapy in its repertoire.

In another post, we quoted a clinical psychologist specializing in diet-related issues, Terese Weinstein Katz, whose eclectic attitude seems to be fairly typical:

I assume that weight solutions differ from person to person, but the goal remains the same: to find ways of eating that support health and peace of mind. Toward this end, I call on a broad range of skills and knowledge, using cognitive-behavioral, mindfulness, and insight-oriented pathways as befits each person’s need.

Cognitive counseling or therapy is about practicing new and different ways of responding to stress, and psychologists find it a very useful tool. It helps a person identify the thought processes that lead to binge-eating. Emotions are what motivate a lot of unwise behavior in the first place, but since humans are also supplied with the power to think, we often recruit our brains to formulate justifications and rationalizations for the stuff our emotions drive us to do.

In the Consumer Reports survey, more than 40% of the respondents agreed that “emotional eating” is a problem that keeps people from losing weight. The consensus among all is that emotions play a role that cannot be ignored. Behavioral self-control depends on emotional preparedness, and the emotional state can drastically change for the better when the positive effects of behavioral change start to show up. The two are inextricably locked together.

In Chapter 15 of Overweight: What Kids Say, Dr. Pretlow outlines some of the strategies or techniques that have been used by young people who were successful in losing weight. They were willing to recognize their “problem foods,” the processed treats that have the same effects as addictive drugs, and make the effort to become unhooked from these harmful substances.

They were willing to go through the discomfort of withdrawal. Dr. Pretlow says:

They learn to recognize true hunger (grumbling, empty stomach) versus emotional hunger (seeking comfort from food when upset, nervous, or bored). They acknowledge that they’re hooked on, even addicted to, certain foods that they seek out when unhappy or bored. They identify situations that push them to crave…

ScienceDaily‘s report quotes the CEO of the American Psychological Association, Norman B. Anderson, Ph.D.:

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.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Poll of Psychologists Cites Emotions as Top Obstacle to Successful Weight Loss,” ScienceDaily, 01/09/13
Image by chefranden (Randen Pederson).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

FAQs and Media Requests: Click here…

Profiles: Kids Struggling with Weight

Profiles: Kids Struggling with Obesity top bottom

The Book

OVERWEIGHT: What Kids Say explores the obesity problem from the often-overlooked perspective of children struggling with being overweight.

About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

Food & Health Resources