Disinhibition – a new bracket term for greed and laziness?

Recent work by teams from the University of Bradford and the University of Leeds has linked a series of food-related behaviours to weight gain.

The behaviours are grouped under the term ‘disinhibition’ and include a tendency to comfort eat, a preference for high fat, high sugar foods, eating when not hungry and reduced physical activity.They argue that addressing the psychology of weight gain and loss using ‘mindfulness intervention’ treatment has greater success at providing long term weight loss than diets and even bariatric surgery in individuals with high disinhibition scores.

But is this really news? The term ‘disinhibition’ was coined in the 1980s, and Dr Eleanor Bryant, leading the press conference, admitted that the studies show correlation, not necessarily causation. She also revealed that the studies categorising people’s disinhibition scores were carried out on students or on obese people already seeking help with weight loss, so are taken from a biased sample.

She did also agree that ‘the causes of obesity are huge’, and that social factors like your home environment, and what you see other people doing around you can have an effect.

One interesting point was why these people that show linked responses to food, like preference for high fat and sugar, and comfort eating, also show a low level of physical exercise. You would think that physical activity is regulated by a completely different system to that which regulates food intake, satiety and hunger, and it is. But, Dr Bryant mentioned the ‘thrifty genotype‘. This sets you up to conserve energy, both by increasing food intake and decreasing the loss of energy with physical activity. Also, the effect is stronger in women across all BMI categories. This could potentially be explained by the fact that a female may need to conserve energy resources in case she becomes pregnant.

So is ‘disinhibition’ just another way of saying these people are greedy and lazy? Well, it’s hard not to form that opinion when high disinhibition scores are so closely correlated with a high BMI and a difficulty in losing weight and keeping it off. So if biology predisposes you to be this way, is there any way of treating the obesity? Dr Bryant spoke of studies showing mindfulness intervention, similar to cognitive behavioural therapy, has been shown to reduce snacking in disinhibited people and aid weightloss. So a psychological approach focussing on getting the person to pay attention to their fullness level and reducing snacking could be the best way forward.

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