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Why can’t you lose weight? Emotions!

January 24, 2013

obesityWhen it comes to losing weight, many people focus on eating less and exercising more. But results of a new survey of psychologists suggest dieters should pay attention to the role emotions play in weight gain and loss if they hope to succeed.

For the survey, conducted by the Consumer Reports National Research Center, more than 1,300 licensed psychologists were asked which strategies were essential to helping their clients lose weight and keep it off.

The top answer: "understanding and managing the behaviors and emotions related to weight management" (44 percent). "Emotional eating” was a close second (43 percent), tying with "maintaining a regular exercise schedule." "Making proper food choices in general" was cited by 28 percent as a key to shedding pounds. In general, gaining self-control over behaviors and emotions related to eating were seen as important.

Ninety-two percent of the 306 respondents who provide weight loss treatment reported helping a client “address underlying emotional issues related to weight gain.” 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, according to survey results.

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. The survey results will be reported in the February 2013 issue of Consumer Reports Magazine® and online at Consumer Reports.

"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, PhD, chief executive officer of the American Psychological Association (APA).

"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.

Psychologists can help people identify emotional triggers that affect their eating and exercise behaviors, and develop strategies and problem-solving skills to make healthy choices.