Anne Roefs, Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience of Abnormal Eating
Anne's extra mile in health: Training your mind for sustainable weight loss
The “Eat-Lab” –officially the Research Group Eating Disorders & Obesity – which is headed by Anne, conducts different kinds of research into behaviour and psychological processes in relation to abnormal eating and obesity (www.eetonderzoek.nl). One particular research project is aimed at developing a personalised and self-learning app for people who are overweight or obese.
The first phase focused on collecting data. Two test groups were formed, one consisting of people that are overweight or obese, the other group with a healthy weight. Eight times a day, both groups were asked about their calorie intake, what they ate, what their emotional state was, where they were etc. The aim of the data collection was to arrive at prediction models. What are the drivers for unhealthy (snacks and sweets) eating and for choosing healthy food? What are the differences between the two test groups in their decision-making processes? It turned out that in the overweight test group, more routes led to unhealthy eating than in the control group.
The next step in the research was to develop a therapy for overweight, based on principles of cognitive behavioural therapy. After all, eating is often preceded by thoughts and emotions – I’ve had such a hard day, I deserve a piece of chocolate now – and tackling these ‘diet-undermining’ thoughts might do the trick. Two new test groups were formed, both consisting of people that were overweight or obese, and both groups went on a 6-week diet. The first group (‘Think Slim’) was aided by an app and by online support, the control group without these extra tools. After 6 weeks, both groups had lost a similar amount of weight. The people who had been supported by the app, however, had significantly improved their ‘psychological eating profile’. They were, for example, less susceptible to external stimuli like ads on TV and to emotion-driven eating. The great thing is that effects were still measurable after one year.
Anne’s initial research has clearly shown that there is a correlation between long-term weight loss and supporting the psychological processes related to eating. In the future, Anne intends to come up with even better intervention tools to help people lose weight in a sustainable way.
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