Despite the best intentions, most diet and exercise plans go astray. A new study suggests emotions play a key role in the ability to lose weight and improve health behaviors.
In a new study, investigators surveyed more than 1,300 licensed psychologists on how they dealt with clients’ weight and weight loss challenges.
The psychologists reported that understanding and managing the behaviors and emotions related to weight management is essential for addressing weight loss, and then keeping the weight off.
Emotional eating and difficulty maintaining a regular exercise schedule were cited as barriers to weight loss by 44 percent of the responders. Making proper food choices in general was reported as a barrier by 28 percent of the psychologists.
In general, gaining self-control over behaviors and emotions related to eating were both key, indicating that the two go together. Ninety-two percent of the respondents reported helping a client “address underlying emotional issues related to weight gain.”
Therapeutic approaches used by the psychologists to aid weight loss strategies include cognitive therapy, and instruction in problem-solving and mindfulness.
In addition, motivational strategies, keeping behavioral records and goal-setting were also important in helping clients to lose weight and keep it off.
Researchers explain that 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 focuses on being aware of the moment.
“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,” said 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,” said Anderson.
The survey results will be reported in the February 2013 issue of Consumer Reports Magazine.