Clinical study of smartphone intervention for obesity
First to find major reduction in craving-related eating
Congratulations to the UCSF Osher Center and collaborators, who recently published their findings in the Journal of Behavioral Medicine, showing that using an app-based clinical intervention can help overweight and obese individuals break the cycle of craving-related eating.
“To date, there has been little evidence for the efficacy of smartphone-based interventions, and this study is an important step toward gathering that evidence,” said Ashley Mason, PhD, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at UCSF, Core Faculty at the Osher Center and lead author on the study. The study enrolled 104 overweight and obese individuals to test Eat Right Now®, an app-based intervention specifically targeted to help individuals identify and work with cravings. The app, which includes short videos, animations, and in-the-moment exercises, progresses through 28 tailored modules that build on the previous ones.
“The mechanisms of stress and emotional eating are the most well-known in science. It baffles my mind why people haven’t focused treatment development more on these mechanisms,” said Judson Brewer MD, PhD, Associate Professor of Medicine and Psychiatry at UMass Medical School, who created the intervention.
The app-based training helps individuals identify triggers for their food cravings and teaches participants how to work with their cravings in a somewhat paradoxical way: by accepting them.
“This sounds a bit strange at first, because with traditional dieting, we are taught to resist that urge to eat,” said Dr. Brewer. “Our training teaches them to paradoxically turn toward their cravings, and even investigate what they feel like, which can be quite radical for many people, because the habitual response is to turn away from things that are unpleasant.”
“We were pleasantly surprised by our results,” said Dr. Mason, referring to the significant 40% reduction in craving-related eating that the team measured after three months of treatment. “Not only did they really like the program, but people reported–both on their self-report questionnaires and on their follow-up visit with us–that the intervention had changed their relationship with food and eating.”
The researchers believe that in a world where both diet crazes and apps have a short shelf-life, more studies of mechanistically-based digital therapeutics may help to provide a paradigm shift in how clinicians approach emotional eating-related obesity in the future.