Overeating, whether in children or adults, often takes place even in the absence of hunger, resulting in weight gain and obesity.
Current methods to treat such overeating in youth focus on therapies that restrict what kids may eat, requiring them to track their food intake and engage in intensive exercise.
But for most children, such behavioral therapy techniques don’t work long term, according to Kerri Boutelle, PhD, associate professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine. Boutelle and colleagues are developing new ways to treat overeating in children and adults.
Two Methods to Reduce Overeating
Their study, published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology , describes two new methods for reducing overeating. The overall aim of these studies is to improve responses to internal hunger and satiety cues and decrease physiological and psychological responses to foods in the environment. Basically, how do we learn to stop eating when we are no longer hungry?
The first treatment group, called appetite awareness training, trains children and parents to recognize, and appropriately respond to, hunger and satiety cues. The other treatment group, called cue exposure training, trains children and their parents to resist the food that is in front of them.
Study on Overeating
In this study, 36 obese 8-to-12-year olds with high levels of overeating and their parents were assigned to eight-week-long training, either in appetite awareness or a cue-exposure treatment. Children were provided a toolbox of coping skills to identify cravings and learn strategies to ride them out until the urges diminished (but only when they were not physically hungry).
While the appetite awareness group focused on training the participants to regulate eating by focusing on internal cues of hunger and appetite, the cue exposure group trained the participants to tolerate cravings to reduce overeating.
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Children and parents in the appetite awareness group brought dinner into the clinic and practiced monitoring their hunger and satiety cues throughout the meal. Children and parents in the cue exposure group brought in their highly craved foods and "stared them down" – holding, smelling and taking small bites of the food – for up to 20 minutes while rating their cravings.
Controlling Overeating and Food Choices
There was only a small effect on body weight and no effect on reported calories eaten in either group; however, both approaches resulted in decreased binge eating in children and their parents.
"By reducing overeating and binge eating, we hope to provide a new way of preventing weight gain and providing children with a sense of control over what they chose to eat " said Boutelle.
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Reference: Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology. Published Online December 2011. “Two novel treatments to reduce overeating in overweight children: A randomized controlled trial.” Boutelle, Kerri N.; Zucker, Nancy L.; Peterson, Carol B.; Rydell, Sarah A.; Cafri, Guy; Harnack, Lisa
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