Dieting for the new year? Learn more about triggers for eating


Research shows that the new year often brings new resolutions, most of which center around physical health or weight loss. Diet and nutrition fads flood the internet with promises of rapid weight loss, but many dieters find the diets difficult to maintain.

Rather than focusing solely on a restrictive diet, researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham found that understanding the motivation behind overeating what they call delicacies can help predict the likelihood of weight gain or loss.

“Delicious foods are your tasty junk food, the ‘junk’ foods, sweets and snacks that are often eaten for reasons other than hunger, leading to weight gain and obesity,” said Mary Boggiano, PhD, UAB associate professor. psychology. “There is an assumption that those who eat these foods, or eat when they are not hungry, do so only for an emotional or coping reason; but that is not the case.”

In 2014, Boggiano’s lab created the Palatable Eating Motivation Scale, or PEMS, which measures the frequency and reasons why people overeat tasty food. The scale divides people into one of four motivation categories—confrontational, reward-enhancing, social, and consensual.

While PEMS began as a clinical tool for those who are overweight or obese, Boggiano says it is also used in weight loss intervention programs to better tailor the program to the individual.

“PEMS helps people recognize their triggers for overeating delicacies,” Boggiano said. “Once someone becomes aware of their urges, they can begin to take steps to modify those urges, break certain habits and create better ones.”


People who frequently eat delicacies as a coping mechanism use food to escape negative feelings, problems, or stressful situations. When life gets tough, they reach for the bag of chips or the candy bowl. More PEMS studies have shown that people who eat to fit in also have a higher risk of binge eating disorders and obesity.

The first step for those in this category, Boggiano says, is recognizing when they are feeling stressed, have negative feelings or are just bored. They can then work to break the habit of using food in therapy.

“When a person is stressed and not hungry, they have to find something else to do besides eat,” Boggiano said. “Going for a walk, taking up a hobby, meditating, watching TV, or talking to a friend can help break a habit. It’s also an opportunity to incorporate healthy habits into one’s routine.”

Bonus promotion

Those who eat to enhance reward like to eat delicacies simply for the taste and satisfaction they feel while eating these foods. She can be quite full after a meal but won’t hesitate to eat the treats placed in front of her. They are also more likely to treat themselves to tasty treats as a personal reward.

Incorporating “delicious” foods into meals and avoiding grazing and snacking between meals can help reduce the frequency of consumption of palatable food.

“Studies show that people are less inclined to stick to diets that restrict certain foods,” Boggiano said. “We found that people are more likely to eat a less palatable food when they are encouraged to incorporate it in other ways rather than when they are urged to stop eating their favorite foods altogether.”


People who overeat when with family and friends or at a party or celebration fall into the social impulse category, which is the most common. Arranging social gatherings around full meals rather than snacking or grazing events can prevent overconsumption and potential weight gain.

“Focus your social encounters around the people you’re with, not the food,” Boggiano said. “If you’ve already eaten before the gathering and there is food present, don’t feel like you have to keep eating.” The point is that eating when not hungry, especially palatable food, is what causes weight gain.


Many people who are happy fall under the motive of conformity. They continue to eat certain foods to please family and friends and to avoid teasing or negative comments if they do not eat the foods, whether they are hungry or not. Boggiano says the best way to break the conformist habit is to be firm with others about one’s own body and health.

“Learn how to connect with friends and family and create healthy boundaries with them when it comes to food and eating,” Boggiano said. “It may be awkward at first, but it’s okay to tell them that you’ll be happy to eat foods when you’re hungry.”

(Courtesy of UAB News)

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