Uku Vainik “Towards a comprehensive framework for the psychological mechanisms of obesity and overeating“
On 8 December 2015 Uku Vainik will defend her doctoral thesis „Towards a comprehensive framework for the psychological mechanisms of obesity and overeating“ in the Council of the Faculty of the Social Sciences and Education.
Supervisors: professor Jüri Allik (University of Tartu) and professor Lesley Kathleen Fellows (McGill University, Canada)
Opponent: professor John Blundell (University of Leeds)
Current environment is more food rich than ever. Why do then some people develop obesity, but others seem resistant? Uku Vainik’s PhD thesis has outlined the main psychological mechanisms behind successful resistance to the lure of unhealthy food.
A systematic review of literature outlined two personality traits – cognitive control and food drive. Food drive stands for the will to work for food and for the ability to notice food signals in the environment. People high in food drive are more prone to overeat. The food drive can be regulated with cognitive control. People higher in cognitive control are more likely to eat healthy despite their food drive. To measure these traits, the review also suggested best behavioural tests and questionnaires.
When using questionnaires, one might face two problems. First, several questionnaires with different names might capture the same personality trait. Second, a single questionnaire could be measuring several personality traits at the same time. Such inconsistencies lead to confusion, as it is hard to understand, which aspects of personality associate with obesity. The thesis introduced novel methods to overcome such issues.
Besides personality traits, we should also study the situations that people experience. For that, we analysed the people’s records of their daily eating behaviours. Results revealed that an ability to eat similar meals is supported by higher cognitive control, but is undermined when people eat with others, away from home, when they consume alcohol or conduct physical activity.
Results of thesis can be used regain control over eating. Dieting is known to fail, as not everyone has high levels of cognitive control. Luckily, there are easier ways. For instance, one could clear her environment from temptations, so no restraint is needed. When eating out, simples rules could help, such as „if cake is offered, I order tea instead“. Hopefully, these insights help people to regain control over their eating.