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Breaking the weight cycle

A web tool developed and tested by University of Otago researchers could help middle-aged women break out of a chronic pattern of dieting, binge eating and weight gain.

Associate Professor Caroline Horwath (Department of Human Nutrition) says that mid-life women are at risk of weight gain and associated health problems and, although dieting produces short-term weight loss, it is largely unsuccessful for long-term weight management.

Horwath led a research team in designing and evaluating a prototype web-based programme, “Mind, Body, Food”, that applies two promising approaches to weight-gain prevention.

Horwath explains that the first, “intuitive eating”, involves eating when hungry and stopping when full, rather than eating in response to emotions and external cues. The second, “acceptance and commitment therapy”, develops skills to cope more effectively (through awareness and acceptance) with emotions, thoughts or cravings that might otherwise trigger overeating.

The researchers enrolled 40 overweight Dunedin women in the programme: most rated the tool as appealing, useful and easy to use. Horwath's team concluded that the tool appeared to be useful in helping women learn “intuitive eating” and “acceptance and commitment therapy” skills, improve mental well-being, reduce binge eating and prevent weight gain.

The study findings, written up by Horwath and colleagues from Otago and the United States, have been published online by JMIR Research Protocols.

Horwath says that more work is needed to enhance further the experience for women using the programme, before the online intervention is tested in a randomised trial.

Photo: Graham Warman
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