With Obesity, Working on Emotions Improves Heart Health
NODE SMITH, ND
People living with obesity who attended a non-judgmental and personalized lifestyle modification program improved their cardiovascular and mental health during just 10 weeks, according to a study presented today at EuroHeartCare — ACNAP Congress 2021, an online scientific congress of the European Society of Cardiology (ESC).1 Participants lost weight and achieved benefits in anxiety and depression and physical measurements including blood pressure.
“We focus on changing behaviors and improving people’s relationship with food,” said study author Ms. Aisling Harris, cardiac and weight management dietitian, Croi Heart and Stroke Centre, Galway, Ireland. “Many participants have tried diets with strict rules and have fears about foods they can’t eat. Our program has no diet or meal plan, and no foods are excluded. Each person sets their own goals, which are reviewed weekly, and our approach is non-judgmental, which builds rapport and gains trust.”
“Obesity develops for multiple reasons and blaming someone for their weight can stop them from getting healthcare and advice,” said Ms. Harris. “It can lead to emotional eating and feeling too self-conscious to exercise. By identifying each person’s triggers, we can develop alternative coping strategies, all within the context of their job, caring responsibilities, external stresses, and so on. For some people, coming to a group like this might be the only social contact that they’ve had in the week or that they’ve had in years. People share experiences and support their peers.”
Both overweight and obesity are associated with an increased risk of dying from cardiovascular disease. Weight loss is recommended to reduce blood pressure, blood lipids, and the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, and thus lower the likelihood of heart disease. This study analyzed the impact of a community-based, lifestyle modification program on the physical and mental health of people living with obesity referred from a specialist bariatric service at Galway University Hospital. The researchers reviewed data from 1,122 participants between 2013 and 2019.
The 10-week Croí CLANN (Changing Lifestyle with Activity and Nutrition) program started with an assessment by a nurse, dietitian and physiotherapist and baseline measurements of weight, blood pressure, cholesterol, blood glucose, fitness, and levels of anxiety and depression. Personalized goals and a management plan were agreed in collaboration with each patient.
Participants attended a 2.5-hour session each week for 8 weeks. The first 30 minutes were devoted to one-to-one goal setting. Next was a 1-hour exercise class led by the physiotherapist. A 1-hour health promotion talk followed on topics such as healthy eating, portion sizes, reading food labels, emotional versus physical hunger, stress management techniques (e.g. meditation), physical activity, sedentary behavior, cardiovascular risk factors, and making and maintaining changes. Participants used activity trackers and kept food diaries to identify triggers for emotional eating.
In the last week patients had an end of program assessment with the nurse, dietitian and physiotherapist to look at outcomes. They were then referred back to the hospital.
At baseline, the average body mass index (BMI) was 47.0 kg/m2 and 56.4% of participants had a BMI above 45 kg/m2. In addition, 26.7% had type 2 diabetes, and 31.4% had a history of depression.
More than three-quarters of participants (78%) completed the program. Psychosocial health was assessed using the 21-point Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale (HADS), where 0-7 is normal, 8-10 is mild, 11-15 is moderate, and 16-21 is severe. Anxiety and depression scores decreased by 1.5 and 2.2 points, respectively, over the course of the program. The proportion with an anxiety score greater than 11 at the start was 30.8% and reduced to 19.9%; for depression the corresponding proportions were 21.8%, falling to 9.5%.
The average reduction in body weight was 2.0 kg overall, with 27.2% of participants losing more than 3% of their initial weight. The proportion achieving recommended physical activity levels rose by 31%. There were significant reductions in total cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, and blood pressure. The proportion with high blood pressure fell from 37.4% at baseline to 31.1% at 10 weeks. In those with type 2 diabetes, the proportion achieving the recommended blood sugar target rose from 47.6% to 57.4%.
Ms. Harris concluded: “Nearly eight in ten people finished the program which suggests that the content and format were acceptable. We observed improvements across all psychosocial and health outcomes during a relatively short period indicating that this could be a model of service delivery for other centers.”
1. European Society of Cardiology. “Focus on emotions is key to improving heart health in people living with obesity.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 17 June 2021. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2021/06/210617082738.htm>.
Node Smith, ND, is a naturopathic physician in Humboldt, Saskatchewan and associate editor and continuing education director for NDNR. His mission is serving relationships that support the process of transformation, and that ultimately lead to healthier people, businesses and communities. His primary therapeutic tools include counselling, homeopathy, diet and the use of cold water combined with exercise. Node considers health to be a reflection of the relationships a person or a business has with themselves, with God and with those around them. In order to cure disease and to heal, these relationships must be specifically considered. Node has worked intimately with many groups and organizations within the naturopathic profession, and helped found the non-profit, Association for Naturopathic Revitalization (ANR), which works to promote and facilitate experiential education in vitalism.