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J Am Diet Assoc. 2009 Aug;109(8):1427-32. doi: 10.1016/j.jada.2009.05.004.

Can relaxation training reduce emotional eating in women with obesity? An exploratory study with 3 months of follow-up.

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  • 1Istituto Auxologico Italiano Istituto di Ricovero e Cura a Carattere Scientifico, Psychology Research Laboratory, San Giuseppe Hospital, Verbania, Italy.


Stress and negative emotions have been shown to be critical factors in inducing overeating as a form of maladaptive coping in some patients with obesity. We evaluated the efficacy of a 3-week relaxation protocol enhanced by virtual reality and portable mp3 players in reducing emotional eating in a sample of 60 female inpatients with obesity who report emotional eating, using a three-arm exploratory randomized controlled trial with 3 months of follow-up. The intervention included 12 individual relaxation training sessions provided traditionally (imagination condition) or supported by virtual reality (virtual reality condition). Control participants received only standard hospital-based care. Weight, behavior and psychological data were collected and analyzed. Relaxation training was effective in reducing emotional eating episodes, depressive and anxiety symptoms, and in improving perceived self-efficacy for eating control at 3-month follow-up after discharge. The virtual reality condition proved better than the imagination condition in the reduction of emotional eating. Weight decreased in subjects in all three conditions without significant differences between them, probably due to the common treatment all inpatients received. We conclude that relaxation training supported by new technologies could be a useful tool for reducing emotional eating episodes and thereby reducing weight and obesity.

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