05:47am Friday 06 December 2019

ACT–ing on weight loss maintenance

The team of investigators will conduct the trial, the first of its kind in Australia; to investigate the extent to which overcoming emotional eating may assist weight loss maintenance.

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is a psychological intervention, and a branch of behavioural therapy, which helps people deal with unpleasant emotions without looking for ways to escape or suppress them, which in this context is through eating.

Chief Investigator, Dr Cate Bearsley-Smith, said the therapy has been successfully trialled overseas.

“Many people engage in emotional eating because in the short term it tends to help people avoid difficult emotional states such as anger, depression, loneliness, boredom and anxiety. Emotional eating occurs in the absence of hunger, which tends to sabotage their weight-loss maintenance efforts,” Dr Cate Bearsley-Smith said.

Dr Cate Bearsley-Smith said through socialisation, most people are conditioned to try to control and avoid their unpleasant feelings.

“This tends to limit the options available for a person. For example, to avoid anxiety the person may avoid all situations in which they feel it, or use substances or food to try and avoid the feeling. ACT aims to bring a new approach to a person’s feelings and teaches participants to better deal with emotions or stressful situations.

Trial coordinator Emma Gallagher said the trial involves participants attending a seminar to learn how to better handle their thought processes and how to influence their personal responses to unhelpful behaviour.

“Emotional Eating is a form of emotional avoidance. Instead of feeling sad, people use eating to distract themselves, to avoid feeling the feeling. It is hoped that this research will show that when people can learn to feel their emotions without using food to avoid them they will be more successful in maintaining weight-loss maintenance,” Ms Gallagher said.

“The therapy is like teaching someone to swim. A person who can’t swim and gets into difficulty will panic, struggle to keep their head above water and become tired. But if a person knows the strategies for staying calm and afloat it’s more likely they will buy enough time to get through the situation. We will teach that technique for responding to challenging thoughts and emotions.”

The therapy has been trialled internationally but the Monash University research is the first time it has been tested in Australia in the context of weight loss maintenance.

To arrange an interview with Dr Cate Beasley-Smith or Emma Gallagher contact Samantha Blair, Media and Communications + 61 3 9903 4841 or 0439 013 951.

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