Investigating the impact of deconditioning anxiety on weight loss

Psychol Rep. 1990 Apr;66(2):595-600. doi: 10.2466/pr0.1990.66.2.595.


The effectiveness of a new model for the treatment of obesity was studied. This model assumed that obesity was not an eating disorder but a "not eating" disorder. Obese individuals do not have a problem eating, they are overly good at it. Obese individuals have a problem not eating. They experience difficulty or anxiety when they do not eat. The model assumed that removal of anxiety associated with "not eating" would allow obese subjects to lose weight. Wolpe and Lazarus' progressive relaxation techniques were used to decondition anxiety assumed associated with "not eating" in subjects. Inferred anxiety was deconditioned under conditions of "not eating" when imagining hunger, emotions, and cravings. Twenty-five subjects were instructed not to follow a diet after deconditioning but to eat less and be hungry to lose weight. A control group of 10 was instructed to follow a balanced 1000-calorie diet to lose weight. The former group lost a statistically significant amount of weight (7.5% of their body weight) over 11.9 months, while the control group subjects gained 6.5% of their weight. The model appears to be effective for the treatment of some individuals who wish to lose weight, based upon this preliminary study. Replication with other and larger groups is essential.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Anxiety / psychology*
  • Conditioning, Psychological*
  • Cues
  • Feeding Behavior*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hunger
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Obesity / psychology*
  • Relaxation Therapy
  • Weight Loss*