Image: supplied. By Sam Ikin.
Emotional eating plays a huge role in Australia’s obesity epidemic with 83 per cent of overweight or obese Australians eating emotionally, according to a recent survey.
The mental health side of obesity is not something that has been given much coverage.
Anti-obesity campaigns have mostly been based on a version of the old mantra “eat less, exercise more”, but is anyone in the country actually not aware of that?
If it is that simple why does the country keep getting fatter?
While the “eat less, exercise more” message is technically true, psychologist Dr Ali Dale points out it is pretty simplistic.
“My hope would be that there’s a greater awareness of the complexity of our relationship with food and that we start to move away from the just ‘eat less, exercise more’ type messages,” she said.
“The same messages just aren’t effective; just telling people to eat less and exercise more, because there’s more to it than that.
“There’s a whole brain science behind what drives people to comfort eat and there’s a psychology to that relationship.
“If it was that simple we wouldn’t have the challenges that we have.”
Australia’s war on obesity has, statistically, been a dramatic failure.
At last count the National Health Survey by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) found the proportion of Australians classified as overweight or obese continued to increase to 63 per cent. Around 71 per cent of men fall into this category and 53 per cent of women.
In the past two years alone the Federal Government has spent more than $100 million trying to get Australians to eat less and exercise more and address obesity and weight gain from a mental health point of view.
That does not include initiatives of the state and territory governments.
Hormones responsible for ‘vicious cycle’
Dr Dale runs a specialist medical weight management clinic in WA and specialises in the relationship between the brain, emotions and eating.
She has quoted new data that suggests most overweight Australians were comfort or emotional eaters and stress and depression were major triggers.
“Over 90 per cent of Australian women who struggle with their weight comfort eat, we know that over 86 per cent of men again who struggle with their weight, they comfort eat,” she said.
“Even if it’s not a diagnosable mental health condition we know that if you’re overweight then you’re more likely to have certain hormones released into your system and you’re more likely to look for high fat, high sugar foods.
“If you’re eating high fat, high sugar foods you gain more weight.