Psycho-nutrition: the key to diet is in the head

Recent studies have confirmed that nutritional habits, likelihood of being overweight or obese are influenced by both psychological and nutritional factors.

A Canadian study has analyzed how criticisms received by relatives and close friends before an individual forms the intention to lose weight, discourages or hinders the goal to lose weight. For its part, another American study has stated that emotions are a very important factor when losing weight.

Tania Mesa – Nutritionist and Nurse from Neolife

For many people the approach of good weather on the horizon is a signal to “lose weight” but there are many barriers, particularly psychological, that can stand in the way of reaching that goal.

What is psycho-nutrition?

Researchers from the University of Waterloo, Ontario (Canada) (1) have found that criticism received from close relatives prior to or in response to an intention to lose weight, demotivates and slows the achievement of the goal to lose weight.

When we feel bad about ourselves, our weight and/or our body image we often turn to our family members and loved ones for support and advice. How they respond is crucial and can often have a positive or negative effect on weight loss that is much greater than previously thought.

Canadian researchers consider that the success of a weight loss program is founded upon the support and acceptance we receive from our loved ones.

The research focused on studying 20-year-old women (as a risk group often dissatisfied with their own weight). Each of the participants were surveyed about their weight and how they felt about their body image; during the subsequent months (before starting a diet) they were asked again about any weight changes, what their family members thought and what they were told about their weight by others.

The study demonstrated that women who received positive messages experienced weight loss quicker and easier than those who were an easy target for negative messages from others. Women who received negative messages (“you’re not going to manage it,” “you’re too fat”…) were found to increase their weight by 4.5 kg during the course of a diet, whilst women who received positive messages (“you’re overweight but you shouldn’t worry,” “you’re fine as you are”…) kept their weight or lost around 1 kg. This underlines the important part such messages played in the weight loss program and more importantly the value we should place in support and acceptance from our loved ones.

In a similar way, another recently published study (2) has shown that emotions are less important than you might think when it comes to losing weight.  According to researchers from the International University of Florida, Ohio State and the University of Kentucky, an individual can learn to control their emotional responses to food and consequently achieve their weight loss goals. The majority of consumers eat on impulse: we may have feelings towards a piece of cake which overpowers our knowledge of nutrition and logical reasoning that we do not need to eat that piece of cake.

American researchers have discovered that emotional training can be used to help people select healthier options and reduce their weight.

This study demonstrated that not only can emotional strength be developed but also that selection of food can be enhanced or inhibited by emotional factors to the exclusion of our knowledge of nutrition.

The participants in the study were trained to identify their emotions in front of a diverse range of foodstuffs and containers. They were also educated to recognize what others were feeling in response to the same foods. After conditioning their emotional response, the participants were studied once more at the moment of choosing their food and the results were compared to the untrained participants.

The researchers found that emotional training (conditioning) was beneficial to people as it helped individuals select healthier foodstuffs and enabled them to achieve greater weight loss in just three months, whilst those who were not trained during the study were found to have gained weight in the same period.

By understanding how one feels and how we should interpret our emotions we are able to make better decisions – we are able to eat healthier, be happier, increase our self-esteem and improve our health in general terms.

When viewed together, the above findings establish that nutritional habits and the likelihood of being overweight or obese are influenced by both psychological and nutritional factors.

At Neolife we ​​are aware of the obstacles and difficulties we all face when we try to start a weight loss program and adopt healthy nutritional habits. From purchasing the food and cooking to a lack of family support, or our struggles to fight against temptations… all of these factors can be a reason for abandoning our diet and even for our weight gain. As a result, we provide ongoing monitoring of your progress as part of our Nutrition programs which is essential if you are to avoid giving into temptation or require psychological support.


(1) LOGEL, C., STINSON, D. A., GUNN, G. R., WOOD, J. V., HOLMES, J. G. and CAMERON, J. J. (2014), A little acceptance is good for your health: Interpersonal messages and weight change over time. Personal Relationships, 21: 583–598.doi: 10.1111/pere.12050

(2) Blair Kidwell, Jonathan Hasford, and David M. Hardesty (2015) Emotional Ability Training and Mindful Eating. Journal of Marketing Research: February 2015, Vol. 52, No. 1, pp. 105-119.