The current advice and treatment given to patients with obesity mostly involve eating less and healthier food and exercising more. In some of the most severe cases, patients undergo obesity surgery.
"We see a strong need for interdisciplinary treatment that considers the psychological aspects of morbid obesity much more than is happening now," says Trine Tetlie Eik-Nes. "The treatment we've been using is based on teaching patients to make them aware of the reasons for their overeating, followed by exercises and group discussions."
Eik-Nes is an associate professor at NTNU's Department of Neuromedicine and Movement Science and has led the project.
Patients Who Wanted Help
Overeating is defined as repeated episodes where a person eats far more than normal. The 42 adults who participated in the study were people who had visited the Obesity Outpatient Clinic at St. Olav's Hospital to ask for help.
All the participants had third-degree obesity, meaning a body mass index (BMI) of 40 or more, or second-degree obesity with additional problems. The majority of the group were women. Six people had undergone obesity surgery.
Eik-Nes believes that the understanding and treatment of obesity and overeating has been too narrow.
"The explanation is more complicated than simply having a big appetite, genetic susceptibility, and "laziness." International research indicates that 30 to 50 percent of people with a high degree of overeating who seek treatment for obesity have psychological challenges around loss of control, such as overeating that lasts a whole day," she says.
Eating to Numb the Pain
According to the researcher, overeating is often related to internal and external stressors. The causes can be many and complex: for example, childhood trauma, negative thoughts about oneself, contempt for the body, problematic relationships with parents, and social difficulties.
A lot of people feel stigmatized because of their large body—in their family, at school, at work, and elsewhere in society. Food acts to numb and help cope with everyday life.