An acceptance-based behavioral intervention for weight loss: a pilot study

Behav Ther. 2012 Jun;43(2):427-35. doi: 10.1016/j.beth.2011.10.005. Epub 2011 Dec 1.


On average, participants in behavioral weight-loss interventions lose 8 kilograms (kg) at 6 months, but there is marked variability in outcomes with some participants losing little or no weight. Individuals with difficulties with internal disinhibition (i.e., eating in response to emotions or thoughts) typically lose less weight in such programs and may require an innovative, specialized approach. This pilot study examined the preliminary acceptability and efficacy of a 24-week acceptance-based behavioral intervention for weight loss among overweight and obese adults reporting difficulty with eating in response to emotions and thoughts. Participants were 21 overweight or obese men and women (mean age=52.2±7.6 years; baseline mean body mass index=32.8±3.4). Eighty-six percent completed the 6-month program and a 3-month follow-up assessment. Ratings of program satisfaction averaged 4.9 on a five-point scale. Multilevel modeling analyses indicated participants lost an average of 12.0 kg (SE=1.4) after 6 months of treatment and 12.1 kg (SE=1.9) at 3-month follow-up, thus exceeding the weight losses typically seen in behavioral treatment programs. Decreases in internal disinhibition and weight-related experiential avoidance were found at 6- and 3-months follow-up. Greater decreases in weight-related experiential avoidance were associated with greater weight loss at the end of the program (r=.64, p=.002), suggesting a potential mechanism of action. Although there have been a few preliminary studies using acceptance-based approaches for obesity, this is the first study to specifically target emotional overeaters, a subgroup that might be particularly responsive to this new approach. Our findings provide initial support for the feasibility, efficacy, and acceptability of this approach for this subgroup of participants. Further study with longer follow-up, a more diverse sample, and comparison to a standard behavioral program is clearly warranted.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Behavior Therapy / methods*
  • Diet, Reducing
  • Exercise
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Life Style
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Obesity / psychology
  • Obesity / therapy
  • Overweight / psychology
  • Overweight / therapy*
  • Patient Satisfaction
  • Pilot Projects
  • Self Efficacy
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Weight Loss*