Thus far we have focused on the attributes of successful maintainers, but it is also important to look at factors of people who have not succeeded at managing their weight. One of the behaviors to look out for is known as Disinhibited Eating, or difficulty controlling overeating (Thomas and Wing, 2009) or “A measure of periodic loss of control over eating.” (Wing and Phelan 2005)
These findings came from a tool called the Three Factor Eating Questionnaire. Looking into the Questionnaire and how it can measure someone’s disinhibited eating, I came across a couple of interesting studies. Keskitalo et al. 2008 was a twin study that found that uncontrolled eating and emotional eating were distinct behaviors, though it is not uncommon in my experience for them to be comorbid. They found that while BMI was not itself genetic between identical twins, it was correlated with the eating behaviors which showed a strong genetic link. Perhaps more interesting, they found that uncontrolled eating was associated with a liking of salty, fatty foods and emotional eating was associated with a liking of sweet, fatty foods.
De Lauzon et al. 2004 explored a modified eating questionnaire, and I was finally able to get a glimpse of what was on the questionnaire. I can certainly understand the concern of the public getting too familiar with these tools, so I’ll just post a link to the abstract. My impression of the difference between uncontrolled eating and emotional eating was that emotional eating involved eating to sooth agitated moods. Uncontrolled eating involved the inability to stop eating and desire to eat (called hunger in the questionnaire) despite being full, just having eaten, or for no reason besides the allure of a food or situation. This study concluded that in clinical practice so much focus goes into what people eat, when the eating behaviors are what really could use modification.
Looking at uncontrolled eating, I think one issue it describes is confounding hunger, appetite, craving and a third type I’ll call externally motivated eating. This includes eating because other people are eating and eating because an item is scarce or coveted. The other large issue is the inability to stop eating.
Unfortunately, animal studies indicate that fatty diets defeat the insulin moderated hunger controls in the brain. (cite) Many diets these days focus on the elimination of carbs because they stimulate insulin release, but there are other diets that lead to insulin resistance including high fat and high calorie. Thomas and Wing (2009) notes that diets of maintainers contain more fat now than they used to, which they speculate is due to low carb diets.
Getting back to emotional eating, a possible strategy for this would be finding alternate ways to sooth negative moods besides eating. We will look further at emotional regulation in the next Attitude segment.
Action steps: If you are an overeater, do you think you are more of an uncontrolled eater or an emotional eater, or both? Do you recognize the difference between physical hunger, appetite, craving, externally motivated hunger, and eating for comfort?
De Lauzon et al. 2004, The Three-Factor Eating Questionnaire R-18 is Able to Distinguish among Different Eating Patterns in a General Population (Abstract)
Keskitalo et al. 2008, The Three-Factor Eating Questionnaire, body mass index, and responses to sweet and salty fatty foods: a twin study of genetic and environmental associations