How to choose the best diet for you…

Horizon's Dr Chris van Tulleken and Professor Tanya Byron reveal new ideas about why we put on weight - and how to take it off again

Emotional Eaters

Professor Tanya Byron (above right) says, “This group has problems with eating because of psychological issues. Emotional Eaters turn to food when anxious, depressed and stressed to try to manage their emotions, in the way other people might have a drink. This group were made to take a driving test with instructors who had been told to make the candidates feel anxious. Afterwards, on average they tucked in to four times the amount of doughnuts, cakes and crisps as the other groups.

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The science

Professor Byron was struck by how deep-rooted our attitudes to food can be. “One woman had been neglected as a child and given only bread and water to eat. As an adult she overcompensated by helping herself to whatever she fancied.” Stress and anxiety boost levels of hormones like cortisol, which in turn makes us feel panicky. “Self-medicating” with fatty, sugary, salty foods in particular can stimulate our “feelgood” response. But that triggers “catastrophic thinking” – I’ve blown my diet, so why bother?

Right diet

Emotional Eaters need support to overcome fears and to believe that they can resist temptation. Professor Byron suggests joining a weight loss group or using online tools and social media to track progress and keep motivated.

Result: Average weight loss 1st 5lb

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Alison Vaughan was one of the top four losers in this group, shedding 1st 11lb. “I would comfort eat quite a lot,” she admits. “Unless you can see what the issue is, you’ve really not got any hope of changing.”