Emotional eaters — people who eat when they are lonely or blue — tend to lose the least amount of weight and have the hardest time keeping it off, U.S. researchers said on Thursday.
They said the study may explain why so many people who lose weight gain it all back.
"We found that the more people report eating in response to thoughts and feelings, the less weight they lost," Heather Niemeier, an obesity researcher at The Miriam Hospital and The Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University, said in a statement.
"Amongst successful weight losers, those who report emotional eating are more likely to regain," said Niemeier, whose study appears in the journal Obesity.
The study included 286 overweight men and women who were participating in a behavioral weight loss program.
A second group consisted of more than 3,300 adults who have lost at least 30 pounds and kept it off for at least one year.
Niemeier and her team analyzed responses to an eating inventory questionnaire.
They focused on people who ate because of external influences, such as people who eat too much at parties, and people who ate because of internal influences, such as feeling lonely or as a reward.
What they found is that the more a person ate for internal reasons, the less weight they lost over time.
"Our results suggest that we need to pay more attention to eating triggered by emotions or thoughts as they clearly play a significant role in weight loss," Niemeier said.
The study was funded by a grant from the National Institutes of Health.