New Research Sheds Light on the Underlying Causes of Obesity and Overeating

Two American researchers have just released the results of an innovative study that provides some refreshing insights into how to deal with overeating and obesity.

Deborah Kesten and her husband Larry Scherwitz newest research article, Whole-Person Integrative Eating: A Program for Treating Overeating, Overweight, and Obesity,” is being published in the peer-reviewed medical journal, Integrative Medicine: A Clinicians Journal (IMCJ) on October 1, 2015.

A wide range of guidelines on food and eating from ancient food wisdom from Eastern healing systems, world religions, and cultural traditions, as well as Western nutritional science, were distilled into 6 principles of integrative eating:

(1) eat fresh, whole foods; (2) eat with positive feelings; (3) eat with mindfulness; (4) eat with gratitude; (5) eat with loving regard; and (6) eat while dining with others.

To assess how well individuals follow these guidelines, an 80-item questionnaire was developed and administered to a large sample of 5256 Americans who participated in a 6-wk, 18-lesson online e-course on integrative eating.

A quantitative factor analysis revealed 7 distinct overeating styles emerged that are the opposite of the perennial principles of integrative eating:

(1)   emotional eating, (2) fast foodism, (3) food fretting, (4) task snacking, (5) sensory disregard, (6) unappetizing atmosphere, and (7) solo dining.

All 7 overeating styles were significantly and independently related to overeating frequency, and 5 of the 7 were significantly related to being overweight or obese. The more a persons dietary lifestyle veers toward the overeating styles and away from the 6 perennial principles of optimal eating, the more likely she or he is to overeat and be overweight or obese.

Based on the results of this study, they are able to offer up some of the most refreshing advice to people about how to deal with obesity and overeating:

Choose Chocolate

Dont write off chocolate as a (heavenly) food that could help you lose weight. Research published in Archives of Internal Medicine, indicates that its possible to eat chocolate and weigh less if you choose the right kinda cocoa content thats 70% or higher, and the right amountan ounce a day, about the size of a credit card. Sorry, but more isnt better `cause if you overeat chocolate, the calorie-count can climb too high to reap the rewards. The secret to chocolates metabolic mystery? The antioxidant epicatechin, which revs up your metabolism.

Feed Your Senses (or Stop and Smell the…)

Heres your excuse to buy that favorite gourmet olive oil youve sniffed in one of those fancy olive-oil boutiques. Scientists in Germany have linked an aromaspecifically, the scent of olive oilto both eating less and weighing less. Somehow, the scent of olive oil helped research participants to feel satiated sooner than those in the canola-oil scented group. And it gets better: those in the olive-oil group lost weight, while the canola-oil folks gained weight. Can sense-filled dining really up your odds of eating less? To find out if aroma is a stay-slim tool that works for you, try your own experiment with scent-sory olive oil both before and while youre eating.

Nix Night Eating

Call it nighttime hunger, nocturnal eating, or night eating syndrome (NES). Regardless of what its called, if you do a lot of overeating after youve had dinner or well into the wee small hours, its a triple weight-gain whammy! Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania reveal why: 1) your metabolic rate and digestion slow down at night; 2) consuming a lot of food at night wreaks havoc with hormones that control appetite, and; 3) eating when your body is meant to relax and restore itself busts your bodys built-in biological clock. The take-away: Simply put, human beings arent meant to eat a lot in the evening hours. So nix night eating. Its a formula for gaining weight and making it hard to lose weight.

Dine by Design

When you eat in emotionally (think eating while surrounded by angry people) and aesthetically (visualize eating in your car in a traffic jam) unpleasant surroundings, researchers Deborah Kesten and Larry Scherwitz have discovered youre more likely to overeat. So think about the atmosphere in which youll be eating ahead of time. As often as possible, each time you eat, design a pleasing dining experience by creating an emotional and physical atmosphere thats as pleasant as possible.

Pay Attention to How You Feel

Emotional eatingturning to food to soothe negative emotions or out-of-control food cravingsis the #1 predictor of overeating and weight gain. To get control, try this: First, commit to getting in touch with your feelings before, during, and after eating. Next, make a conscious choice to eat when your emotions are balancednot negative. Then recognize that one of the best reasons for eating is a healthy appetite, meaning, dont let yourself get too hungry. The bottom line: Commit to eating for pleasure, with a healthy desire for food, while youre feeling feel-good emotions. Then enjoy your meal.

Eat with Others

A famous study that began in the early 1960s in the small town of Roseto, Pennsylvania, explores the influence of human relationships and social support on the metabolism of high-fat, high-cholesterol, calorie-dense foods. Amazingly, this study suggests that when social support is present in our lives, especially when we eat, what we eat is somehow metabolized differentlyso much so that it can keep you from getting sick. More recent research reveals that eating alone more often than notwhat researchers Deborah Kesten and Larry Scherwitz call Solo Diningis yet another new normal eating style that strongly increases the odds of overeating.

The researchers concluded that eating with others in a pleasant atmosphere might be a useful way to overcome overeating. When its time to eat a meal, invite others to join you. Share mealtimes with friends, family, or coworkers as often as possible. Or if you have a pet, consider eating at the same time as your furry friend!

Dont Diet

Although dieting, judging food as good or bad, and thinking a lot about the best way to eat may not seem to have much in common, they are all characteristics of what researchers Deborah Kesten and Larry Scherwitz describe as a food fretter. If you see yourself in the food-fretter scenario, youre at increased odds of overeating and weight gain. To get off the food-fretting treadmill, first and foremost, stop dieting. Instead, perceive food and eating as one of lifes greatest pleasures. Choose wisely (see Get Fresh, below) and enjoy.

Get Fresh

If your most-of-the-time way of eating is, say, a donut and coffee for breakfast; a burger, fries, and coke for lunch; pizza for dinner; and chips as a snack, researchers Deborah Kesten and Larry Scherwitz might say that fast foodism is your main overeating style. If a diet of mostly fast and processed foods is typical for you, consider getting in touch with your inner fresh-food fairy. You can do this by replacing sugar-, fat-, and salt-laden foodish foodsingredients that can amp up your overeating enginewith more fresh fruits, veggies, whole grains, beans, and nuts and seeds, and lean, free-range, chemical-free animal foods. Worth a try, dont you think?

When You Eat, Eat

Do you ever eat while watching TV? Or while working at your computer? Or when youre driving? If you eat while doing other things, youre doing task snacking, an overeating style researchers Deborah Kesten and Larry Scherwitz have linked with overeating and increased odds of weight gain. The antidote? Give up eating while doing other activities. Instead, stay mindful, keep focused on your food, and do one thing at a time. In other words, eat when you eat!

Quit Chemical Cuisine

Obesogens are the manmade chemicals, plastics and pesticides which have found their way into our food supply and beverages. They wreak their havoc on both appetite and weight by mimicking estrogen, a hormone that can make you fat. The solution? One quick tip for avoiding chemical cuisine is to stay away from bisphenol A (BPA) found in canned foods, bottled beverages, meat packed in plastic, and more.

About the Authors

Deborah Kesten, MPH, is an international nutrition researcher and educator, with specialties in preventing and reversing obesity and heart disease, Lifestyle Medicine, and epigenetics. She is the Principal Investigator on the overeating styles research and the Whole-Person Integrative Eating Program (WPIE) for treating overeating, overweight, and obesity. Deborah was the nutritionist on Dr. Dean Ornishs first clinical trial for reversing heart disease through lifestyle changes, and Director of Nutrition on similar studies at cardiovascular clinics in Europe. With more than three hundred published nutrition and health articles and five books, she is also the award-winning author of Feeding the Body, Nourishing the Soul, plus Make Weight Loss Last, her book about the authors overeating research.

Larry Scherwitz, PhD, is an international research scientist who has specialized in mind-body research and lifestyle medicine and their link to preventing and reversing heart disease and obesity. Having directed seven Lifestyle programs (four in the United States, three in Europe), he has extensive experience initiating and directing comprehensive, sustainable, lifestyle-change programs with heart patients and their families. Dr. Scherwitzs researchincluding his groundbreaking discovery linking self-involvement to risk of heart attack and death from heart attackhas been published in a numerous medical journals, including the Journal of the American Medical Association, The Lancet, and Psychosomatic Medicine. He has also been director of research and co-principal investigator with Dean Ornish, MD, on his heart-disease reversal research.

Their book Make Weight Loss Last was published in September 2012. For more information

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