For years doctors have focussed on Australia’s obesity epidemic from a physical point of view, telling patients to follow the time-honoured mantra of “eat less, exercise more”.
Now though, new research has revealed there is a strong link between your emotional state and your waistline.
Currently, Australia’s obesity rate sits at 62 per cent, with 71 per cent of men and 53 per cent of women falling into this category.
Emotional eating plays a huge role in this epidemic and doctors say ignoring this side of the issue is a dangerous approach.
Psychologist Dr Ali Dale says the emotional side of obesity is even more complex than the physical.
“My hope would be that there’s a greater awareness of the complexity of our relationship with food and that we start to move away from the just ‘eat less, exercise more’ type messages,” she told the ABC.
“The same messages just aren’t effective; just telling people to eat less and exercise more, because there’s more to it than that.
“There’s a whole brain science behind what drives people to comfort eat and there’s a psychology to that relationship.
“If it was that simple we wouldn’t have the challenges that we have.”
The Federal Government has spent $100 million on obesity campaigns in the past two years, but it has barely made a dent in the issue.
Dr Dale says there is also a link between your hormones and your desire to comfort eat.
“Over 90 per cent of Australian women who struggle with their weight comfort eat, we know that over 86 per cent of men again who struggle with their weight, they comfort eat,” she said.
“Even if it’s not a diagnosable mental health condition we know that if you’re overweight then you’re more likely to have certain hormones released into your system and you’re more likely to look for high fat, high sugar foods.
“If you’re eating high fat, high sugar foods you gain more weight.
“We know that society judges you, you don’t move as easily and so therefore you feel worse about yourself but then that releases those same hormones which drives us to comfort eat even more.”
She says the best way to counteract your desire to comfort eat is to have a scheduled and organised eating plan to remove the compulsion to reach for the treats when you’re in need of comfort.
Eating out of boredom, stress, or depression is a huge contributor to obesity and reducing your chances of succumbing to these emotions can drastically help control your weight.
“We make most of them [food decisions] out of habit and a lot of them are driven by our emotional state.
“If we can raise awareness of the role of emotions, the role of availability within our own homes of high fat, high sugar foods we can give people some strategies to reduce that.
“Really simple strategies like, reduce the number of food related decisions you have to make every day, look for a structured program that helps you to reduce those food related decisions then we know that people have a much greater likelihood of success.”