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Experiences of emotional eating in an Acceptance and Commitment Therapy based weight management intervention (SWiM): A qualitative study.

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Jones, Rebecca A 
Hughes, Carly 
Duschinsky, Robbie 
Hill, Andrew 


BACKGROUND: Emotional eating is a barrier to weight management. Interventions based on Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) promote the acceptance of uncomfortable feelings, which can reduce the urge to use food as a coping mechanism. We aimed to explore how participants of an ACT-based weight management intervention (WMI) experience emotional eating and relevant intervention content. METHODS: We conducted semi-structured telephone interviews with participants of a digital ACT-based guided self-help WMI. Fifteen participants were purposefully selected to represent a range of demographic characteristics and emotional eating scores. We used reflexive thematic analysis to explore experiences of emotional eating. RESULTS: We generated five themes. Participants improved emotional eating by disconnecting emotions from behaviours though increased self-awareness (theme 1) and by implementing alternative coping strategies, including preparation, substitution, and acceptance (theme 2). Most participants maintained improvements in emotional eating over time but wished for more opportunities to re-engage with intervention content, including more immediate support in triggering situations (theme 3). Participants who struggled to engage with emotional eating related intervention content often displayed an external locus of control over emotional eating triggers (theme 4). The perceived usefulness of the intervention depended on participants' prior experiences of emotional eating, and was thought insufficient for participants with complex emotional experiences (theme 5). DISCUSSION: This ACT-based WMI helped participants with emotional eating by improving self-awareness and teaching alternative coping strategies. Intervention developers may consider adding ongoing forms of intervention that provide both real-time and long-term support. Additionally, a better understanding of how to support people with an external locus of control and people with complex experiences of emotional eating is needed. Future research may explore ways of personalising WMIs based on participants' emotional needs.



Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, Emotional eating, Weight management, Humans, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, Emotions, Health Behavior

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Elsevier BV
MRC (MC_UU_00006/6)