Stress and negative emotions have been shown to be critical factors in inducing overeating as a form of trying to cope in obese people1. It is well accepted that a combination of dietary modification and increased exercise is an effective way to promote weight loss and that dietary compliance improves when monitored on a regular basis. The addition of stress management interventions to the mix are gaining interest, however, since it is also documented that self-reported reasons for weight regain include stress related to family and/or work2.
Research is in its early days since only a few studies have used stress management interventions combined with dietary treatment3. However, in an eight-week stress management programme on weight loss and eating behaviour in overweight and obese women in Greece, significant improvement in weight loss and higher restrained eating behaviour was seen in the stress management group following intervention, in comparison to the control group1.
The stress management group attended a 40-minute individual session of stress management intervention which included learning techniques for progressive muscular relaxation and diaphragmatic breathing. Each individual received a CD with recorded instructions and was told to practice it twice a day for eight weeks and record what they did. After four and eight weeks, they attended two more nutritional consultations and stress management sessions. Both groups followed a weight loss dietary programme, but the stress management group lost more weight than the group who did not receive such sessions.
In essence, therefore, to help people lose weight and keep it off, it is important to offer an integrated approach to health behavioural change that embraces a person-centred approach and involves guidance on how to manage stress. The behavioural approach in weight management aims to help individuals implement and sustain changes to their eating habits, activity levels and thinking patterns that contribute to their weight issues.