Psychological Factors in Obesity

Understanding the root causes for your disordered eating

Psychological Factors in Obesity

Obesity is a condition where genetics, nutrition, lifestyle and psychology merge into a complex mesh of interactions.

The more psychologically stuck, or damaged, an individual feels, there is a greater chance of disordered eating, social inadequacies and health complications.

Obesity Treatment at WeightMatters

Our role at WeightMatters is to unpick and untangle the psychological issues that inhibit you from changing your current lifestyle patterns, freeing you to change your relationship with food, eating, weight and body image. For many the outcome is healthier eating, balanced enjoyment around food, regular exercise, weight loss, greater self-esteem, happier relationships and a positive outlook on life.

Working Deeper with Obesity

Here are some of the deeper psychological issues that can be prevalent in obesity, which we work with on a regular basis at the practice.


Child abuse can come in different forms; sexual, physical, psychological, emotional. When there is abuse by an adult figure, a child will attempt to cope with their situation and soothe their emotional chaos. Food has positive associations – it tastes good, is seen as a treat and, unbeknown to the child, will change brain chemistry.

Food is learned to numb pain and cut off from, or suppress, emotions. In the present day, food is still used to soothe difficult emotions, brought about by dysfunctional relationships, which are an echo of the blueprint laid down by the earlier abuse relationship. Obesity and a larger physical size can become a protective physical barrier to make an individual unattractive to others, thus keeping them safe from unwanted attention. Eating remains as a way of distracting ourselves from overwhelming feelings.


When parents are busy with work, or they lack adequate parenting skills, or they struggle to cope with little money and a large family, the result can often feel like neglect to a child. They are not seen or heard, their emotional difficulties are not understood and they are left with a psychological hunger for attention.

Their emptiness for love, recognition and acceptance is filled with food. This hurt and rejection is often defended against with a need to please others and to be perfect. This is how a child will attempt to get their needs met, and maintain a relationship with their caregivers. In the present day, an obese individual may be an overachiever who is a perfectionist at work and puts others’ needs before their own. Their needs are still not met, and food continues to fill the emptiness they feel within.

Rules, Discipline, Control and Rebellion

A healthy balance of discipline, guidance and nurturing is optimal to support a healthy development of a child. When there is too much discipline and control over a child, manifesting as rigid and inflexible rules, the child will for a time adapt and do what they are told, but eventually they explode and rebel against the authority figure.

A child learns to rebel at an early age through food, and this is a normal part of development. Fussy eating and the refusal to eat certain foods, are ways of playing out and communicating their frustration. Roll forwards a few years, and in an environment where the child feels endless rules, and a lack of fun, their rebellion and emotional soothing comes from food.

‘You can’t control the way I eat’ can result in eating sweets and junk food, which make the child feel good. The child is often told off, maybe even told they are fat and useless by the parent figure. In the present day, an obese person will have internalized the critical voice of the parent figure and the strict rules of their upbringing.

This results in futile attempts to go on strict diets, which are quickly broken, as the child within has already learnt to rebel against strict rules. An inner dialogue of vicious criticism makes the obese individual feel useless and pathetic, and so they reach for food to soothe their pain, as they learnt to do as a child.

Lucretia’s Testimonial

"When I first came across the WeightMatters practice I had no idea that it would signal the start of a new life for me. I had struggled with an eating disorder and obesity for 25 years, and truly felt that I could never recover or change. Having spent years (and a significant amount of money) on failed weight loss attempts, I was stuck and had finally reached my breaking point.

However, from the moment I walked into the WeightMatters Practice, I knew that it was different. Finally, I had met an amazing group of people who truly understood and cared. Over the next few months, through the Shrink programme, I began my recovery. I came to terms with the fact that my relationship with food was much deeper than simply overindulging. I felt valued and heard for the first time in my life and I finally faced some very difficult experiences and emotions.

In terms of my own health and nutrition, I feel completely re-educated. I, and in fact my whole family, have enjoyed experimenting with new and varied tastes. Sitting with my children and enjoying a meal together used to be so rare, but is now a daily occurrence.

My weight loss journey has just begun, but now I feel like a different person. I have been given the confidence to believe in myself and the tools to change what I need to change, and I have no doubt that this time I will succeed.

I cannot thank the WeightMatters team enough for giving me back my life."

Lucretia, 43 *

* Disclaimer - Results may vary from person to person

Low Self-Worth & Shame

A child who experiences abuse, neglect, rejection or a lack of nurturing contact will be faced with intolerable emotions that they have no way of resolving. In order to maintain contact with parents, who are needed by the child to survive in the world, a child will often accept blame for what has happened. Their anger is directed within, and they start believing they are bad. Their feelings of anger, sadness, badness and fear combine into a deep-rooted feeling of shame. With this comes a sense of worthlessness.

Core beliefs of being bad and worthless will result in the manifestation of situations in life to prove and reinforce these early childhood decisions. In the present day, obese individuals will find themselves entering destructive relationships where they continue to feel shamed. Their fear of conflict, and belief they are to blame, results in acquiescing to their present day perpetrator. The cycle of low self-worth and shame continue, and food is again used to soothe. Obesity can also be seen as a way of showing the world I am worth nothing, stay away, because I am bad.


When we are faced with a traumatic event, the initial blast of shock is compounded with a tsunami of chaotic emotions. Death, rape, an accident, redundancy or health deterioration are life events which can literally smack us around the face. Life has thrown us a swerve ball that knocks us off our feet. If we already use food to comfort us (and we all do at times), then in moments of trauma and shock we can easily lean on a known mechanism that makes us feel better. An obese individual may have been unable to move through a healthy and normal process of grief. The longer they suppress their feelings, the more it feels as if an avalanche of emotions will engulf them if they start to work through things. Food becomes a stopper that literally plugs the holes in the dam wall, distracting and soothing their fear.

Body Image

Our earliest experiences of our body stay with us, and become the foundation blocks of how we see ourselves in the world. Name calling by parents, bullying by vicious kids at school and moments where a child feels humiliated and embarrassed about their size all feed into an unhealthy and destructive body image.

Core beliefs about being fat, ugly and unattractive permeate and cut through time. In the present day, an obese individual will believe they are unlovable and unattractive because of how they look. Futile attempts at dieting and weight loss do not match the underlying core beliefs of being fat and large, which results in binge eating and a return to type. Obesity can become a label that defines and confirms self-identity, as they have always felt fat.

Food Script

Families have their own rituals, behaviour patterns, beliefs and culture around eating. As children we consume this way of acting around food and it becomes our unconscious blueprint of how to be in relationship with food, eating, weight and meal times.

Some of these family imprints will be helpful and guiding, but for many obese individuals they are toxic and damaging. In the present day, the obese individual will be acting out these behaviours because they are so habitual. They feel trapped and unable to change what is so entrenched in their make-up. Changing behavior and navigating the social minefield of eating and drinking in their life can feel overwhelming, so it becomes easier to stay eating the way they have always done.

Obesity Treatment

We have generalized some of the most common psychological presenting issues that we face with obese clients. It is essential to understand how and why you struggle with food and weight in the present day, and this comes from investigating what happened to you in the past.

With this awareness and understanding, we can support you in changing and updating the personality cement blocks that keep you rooted in your weight dysfunction. Every obese individual is different, and you will have your own unique story that explains your struggle with food. For this reason the treatment and support we offer must be tailored to address your individual needs.

Treatment for Psychological Factors in Obesity

We invite you to explore these services for Psychological Factors in Obesity

Counselling &

Let us guide you on the path to recovery



Psychological and nutritional support for weight loss



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