New approach to overeating

New approach to overeating

By Nick Watts

New research into a different method of working with those who overeat has been revealed in the United States by the University of California. The new method, which they have tested with children, goes beyond the approaches of traditional behavioural therapy and delves into the realms of mindfulness and the recognition of satiety cues.

This different approach is aimed at improving the responses to satiety and internal hunger cues and to decrease not only the physical effect, but the psychological response to food in the environment. Kerri Boutelle, the associate professor of psychiatry and paediatrics at the University of California claims children who are exposed to standard behavioural therapy techniques do not see a long term change in behavioural patterns.

Boutelle and colleagues have developed new methods of working with children who overeat and their study has recently been published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology. The research describes two new techniques based on the principles of mindfulness;

In this study, 36 overweight 8-12 year olds who showed high levels of overeating were assigned to eight week long treatment groups, either in appetite awareness or a cue-exposure group. They were then given several strategies to help them deal with cravings until they ceased, to use when not physically hungry. They were also taught how to manage potential overeating situations and to learn to recognise natural body cues, such as hunger and subsequently, satiety.

At the end of the study 81 % of those in the appetite awareness control group said they felt more in control of their eating habits and in the cue exposure group 69 %.

Studies like this prove that quite often the roots of weight problems and overeating are not simply physical, but linked to how we feel emotionally and our basic relationship with food. In the UK, most weight related treatment is physical and very little is done to work with people from a psychological approach in dealing with weight, meaning a person’s relationship with food and the way they see it is often forgotten about.

Mindfulness and recognising satiety and hunger cues are not new approaches entirely, they have been used with some good success in treating people with restrictive eating disorders, such as anorexia and bulimia and some work has been done with adults suffering from binge and compulsive eating disorders.

A good working example in the UK of mindfulness surrounding food is overeaters anonymous, which although is peer led, provides some good resources in terms of managing and dealing with hunger and satiety cues. That said, all the research and work in this area is vital, as so many weight loss surgeries and fad diets are undertaken every year where the roots of the sufferers problem is psychological and not being addressed. 

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