Emotions are the ‘key’ to weight loss, not surgery

RESORTING to stomach stapling to control food intake does not address the root cause of overeating and many who opt for such radical surgery fail to kick their bad habits, according to a world expert on obesity.

Dr Maurice Larocque, a medical doctor who specialises in the psychology of the overweight person, said the key to weight control was getting people to identify why they overeat and to take responsibility for their behaviour.

“I don’t think of surgery as a panacea. It doesn’t make people responsible for their behaviour and it doesn’t deal with their emotions. Even after a major operation such as gastric bypass [stomach stapling], people gain weight. I see five or six patients a week at my clinics who had surgery and their behaviour has not changed.”

Dr Larocque said genetics and physiological reasons — such as low blood sugar — played a minor role in obesity and that psychological factors were at play in the vast majority of those with problems.

“Emotions play a big part and the most frequent emotion we encounter is guilt. Emotions trigger our behaviour, and if the emotion is guilt, it triggers negative behaviour. If you are out of control with food, it often means you are out of control with your emotions,” said Dr Larocque.

With more than 30 years of research in the field of bariatric medicine — the study and treatment of obesity — under his belt, Dr Larocque has developed a revolutionary thinking by focusing on an individual’s “mental weight”.

Patients who attend his clinics across the globe are asked to complete a comprehensive questionnaire about their habits, attitudes and emotions when it comes to food.

The questionnaire, which is analysed by a clinic consultant, helps identify why people overeat. By identifying the causes, the patient is then encouraged to take responsibility for and modify his/her behaviour.

“One of the main problems we encounter in patients is their lack of hope. We help people to address that, we do monthly follow-ups and try to motivate them to correct their behaviour.” Lack of sleep can also cause difficulties for those trying to control appetite, he said.

According to Dr Larocque, food is not the problem. “If food was the problem, diets would be the answer. Following a diet without a good behaviour modification programme is pointless and a total waste of time and money,” he said.

Dr Larocque disputes the widely held view that rapid weight loss is not the key to long-term weight loss.

“We did a study, published two years ago in the British Journal of Health Psychology, which showed that rapid weight loss in the early days of a diet improves motivation. It makes sense. If you see a result, you are motivated to keep going.”

Dr Larocque, 63, from Montreal, is in Ireland to raise awareness of obesity as a serious health concern — almost two in five people in Ireland are overweight — and to share his expertise on weight management.

* Dr Larocque will deliver a public seminar on Strategies for Long-Term Weight Management on Saturday, March 29 at 11am in the concourse at Beacon Court, Sandyford.


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