Psychologists believe dieters should pay attention to the role emotions play in weight gain and loss if they hope to succeed, according to a survey by the Consumer Reports National Research Center.

The survey asked 1,328 licensed psychologists how they dealt with clients' weight and weight loss challenges. When asked which strategies were essential to losing weight and keeping it off, psychologists cited:

  • "Understanding and managing the behaviors and emotions related to weight management" as essential for addressing weight loss with their clients (44 percent).
  • "Emotional eating" (43 percent) as a barrier to weight loss.
  • "Maintaining a regular exercise schedule" (43 percent) and "making proper food choices in general" (28 percent) as keys to shedding pounds.

In general, gaining self-control over behaviors and emotions related to eating was key, indicating that the two go together.

Ninety-two percent of the 306 respondents who provided a weight loss treatment reported helping a client "address underlying emotional issues related to weight gain." More than 70 percent identified cognitive therapy, problem-solving and mindfulness as "excellent" or "good" weight loss strategies.

In addition, motivational strategies, behavioral records and goal-setting were also important in helping clients to lose weight and keep it off, according to survey results. Cognitive therapy helps people identify and address negative thoughts and emotions that can lead to unhealthy behaviors. Mindfulness allows people to let thoughts and emotions come and go without judging them, and instead concentrate on being aware of the moment.

"Anyone who has ever tried to lose a few pounds and keep them off knows that doing so isn't easy. The good news is that research and clinical experience have shown that, in addition to behavioral approaches, cognitive behavioral therapy that targets emotional barriers helps people lose weight," says APA CEO Norman B. Anderson, PhD.

The online poll was designed by the Consumer Reports National Research Center in partnership with experts provided by APA. The survey results were reported in the February issue of Consumer Reports and online at Consumer Reports.org.

—Lisa Bowen