Management & Leadership

Can weight-loss therapy help emotional eaters lose weight?

Jan 22, 2018
Weight Loss Therapy

Emotional eaters often suffer from stress and low self-esteem and, hence, use food as a source of comfort. Therapy may be the answer.

Key takeaways

  • Therapy, and in particular, cognitive behavioural therapy, has been shown to have significant benefits for emotional eating.
  • Emotional eaters often suffer from stress and low self-esteem and, hence, use food as a source of comfort.
  • Weight loss therapy is an ongoing process that involves body image modification and the setting of both short- and long-term goals.

According to the latest South African Demographic and Health Survey, almost 70% of South African women are either overweight or obese. In fact, the country has the highest rates for women in Africa. Even more worrying is the fact that 13% of South African children are overweight or obese, which is more than double the global average of 5%.

Recently, however, the scientific and medical communities have begun to sing the praises of counselling for its weight loss benefits. Cognitive behavioural therapy, in particular, has been shown to have significant benefits for so-called “emotional eaters”.

Indeed, many who struggle with obesity have multiple times on their own – both guided, through programmes such as Weigh-Less, and unguided through diet and exercise – to shed the weight. So how, after multiple failed attempts, can a psychotherapist help these people finally shed the weight for good?

What is emotional eating?

To explain the efficacy of psychotherapy in the treatment of obesity, it’s important to first gain an understanding of emotional eating.

People who are emotional eaters are more likely to feel out of control and stressed. They often suffer from a low self-esteem and will feel worthless. Sometimes they will use food as an instant comfort, and at times food will give the same relief or gratification as being rewarded does.

While eating, emotional eaters may experience numbness or a dulling sensation of their emotions. However, this relief is short lived and they often feel guilty after using food as a temporary relief.

What is weight loss therapy?

Weight loss therapy is a form of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), a psychological therapy used to treat a multitude of problems ranging from stress to eating disorders. While CBT isn’t a substitute for proper lifestyle decisions, such as getting appropriate amounts of exercise or limiting caloric intake, it’s often used as a supplemental approach to help patients support lifestyle change.

Several large studies have detailed the effectiveness of CBT as a supplement to traditional diet and exercise. The studies have shown that patients using this form of therapy, in addition to diet and exercise, showed more dramatic and long-lasting changes to their overall body weight than those who used just diet and exercise, or just cognitive behavioural therapy.

Methods used in weight loss therapy

Weight loss therapy consists of a series of conversations and goals with a specialist in behavioural therapy. Initial conversations might cover the history of your lifestyle as well as goals for future body weight. In subsequent meetings, you and your therapist will set goals as well as outline actionable steps that will help you to achieve them.

Over time, the work with your therapist will lead to the weight loss that may have not been possible on your own. Both from an accountability standpoint and a nuts-and-bolts approach, the therapy sessions will show you just what it takes in order to achieve your body image goals. Through a series of lifestyle changes, body image modification, and the setting of goals both short and long term, you should begin to see change that may have not been possible had you gone at it alone.

After you’ve reached your initial body weight goals, the therapist will then continue to guide you on healthy lifestyle goals so that you can maintain your initial hard work. This is a process, and an ongoing one. Your body will revert back to its original shape without continued effort and healthy decisions on your part.

Why hire a therapist?

Finding a qualified psychologist to aid you in your goals can accelerate the weight loss process. In addition, therapy is vital to those who have body image issues – and most who are struggling with additional weight do. The therapist will help you to set reasonable expectations, to understand just how far you’ve come, and to appreciate the body that you’ve worked so hard for.

When searching for a therapist, it’s important to look for one that is the best fit for your needs. Meet with more than one therapist, and choose the one that you are happiest with and that you believe will be the biggest asset in helping you lose the weight, for good.

Interested in finding out more about the potential benefits of counselling? SACAP has a range of counselling courses that can help you pave the way for a career as a registered counsellor, although the skills you develop will make you an asset in whatever career path you choose to pursue. For more information, enquire now.

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