Obesity Is Shrink Territory


Dr. Pretlow makes a good case for the idea that obesity is primarily a psychological problem, and that psychologists and psychiatrists are the best professionals to treat it. On the most elemental level, it doesn’t take a mental health professional to enumerate the reasons. Even a layperson knows that depression leads to overeating.

The special kind of depression caused by the death of a loved one has its own name — Kummerspeck — which means “grief bacon,” or the more genteel “sorrow fat.” In fact, the German language even has another customized word for the emotional distress-motivated overconsumption of food — Frustfressen, which is excessive eating brought about by frustration. The concept that mental/emotional upsets can drive the body into unhealthful activity has been around for a long time.

Just because people are prone to experiencing these states does not mean they are good or healthy. This is where the practitioners of mental and emotional therapy come into the picture. They have the ability to help a person realize how illogical, short-sighted, and potentially dangerous it is to give in to cravings.

If food is available to be eaten, two things can happen: A person either eats it, or turns down the opportunity. For the person who chooses not to eat it, two results may follow. They might continue on with their daily doings, mentally and emotionally unaffected by the non-event.

Loss Aversion

Or, they might experience ongoing regret, and a genuine and painful sense of deprivation. In fact, the person who didn’t eat the cupcake might feel worse about not eating it than the person who eats the cupcake and feels happy about eating it. In other words, the cupcake eater might feel pleasure up to the 5 mark on a 1-to-10 scale, while the person who did not get the cupcake achieves an 8 on the 1-to-10 anguish scale.

To put it another way, we are more bummed out by pleasures we miss than we are satisfied by good times we capture. Folk wisdom tells us that, looking back over life in our dying moments, we will most powerfully regret the things we left undone. Famous journalist Sydney J. Harris phrased it like this:

Regret for the things we did can be tempered by time; it is regret for the things we did not do that is inconsolable.

Another quotation, this one from the writer Rafael Sabatini, kicks it up a notch:

Regret of neglected opportunity is the worst hell that a living soul can inhabit.

Difficult as it may be for a sane person to imagine, that is the exact emotion felt by an obese child who has just returned part of his lasagna to the serving dish. At the moment, relinquishing those extra calorie-laden bites is the worst kind of hell. This obviously is a delusional and counterproductive mindset. The examination and alleviation of such mental constructs is the area of expertise where mental health professionals shine.

This quotation is from Dr. Pretlow:

If clinicians would listen to their obese young clients and ask the right questions, it may become evident that what drives these youth to overeat is a psychological problem…

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Untranslatable German Words,” Transparent.com, 02/09/15
Photo by threelayercake on Visualhunt/CC BY-ND

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Profiles: Kids Struggling with Weight

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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