Many people, whether children or adults, often overeat even in the absence of hunger which can potentially result in weight gain and obesity.

A new study suggests two new methods for reducing overeating.

Current methods such as therapies restricting what kids eat, requiring them to track their food intake, and engage in intensive exercise work to treat overeating in youth.

That doesn’t always work long term, according to Kerri Boutelle, PhD, associate professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine.

While the current methods engage in behavioral therapy techniques, the two new methods to prevent a child from overeating use physiological and psychological responses to foods in the environment, aiming to improve responses to internal hunger and satisfaction cues.

In other words the researchers asked the question, “How do we learn to stop eating when we are no longer hungry?”

Two Approaches

The first treatment group trains both children and parents on how to determine and appropriately respond to hunger and satiety cues, they call this, appetite awareness training.

The second treatment group, called cue exposure training, trains both children and their parents to resist foods that are in front of them.

Citing examples of food triggers such as TV commercials, Boutelle explained how the environment causes people to think they’re hungry when hunger is actually absent.

"We teach children and parent’s how the environment tricks us into eating foods even when we're not hungry."

The study took 36 obese children, ages 8-12 with high levels of overeating and their parents and assigned them to an eight-week long training, either in appetite awareness or a cue-exposure treatment.

The authors explained that the children were provided with a toolbox of coping skills to "ride out their cravings," identifying such cravings and learning strategies to ride them out until the urges diminished when they were not physically hungry.

Participants learned how to manage potential overeating situations when they might not listen to their bodies' signals, because of the availability of foods or even their own moods, the authors said.

In the appetite awareness group, children and parents practiced monitoring their hunger and satiety cues while eating dinner that they brought into the clinic.

Those in the cue exposure group brought in their highly craved food, stared it down, held it, smelled it, and took small bites of it, for up to 20 minutes while rating their cravings, they then threw away the leftovers.

The authors said that in post-treatment surveys, “75 percent of the children in the appetite awareness group and more than 50 percent of children in the cue exposure group liked the program ‘a lot’ or ‘loved it.’ A high percentage, 81 and 69 percent, respectively reported feeling more in control of their eating due to the program.”

"While this was a pilot study, our initial results suggest that the 'cue exposure' approach might be very helpful in reduction of eating in the absence of hunger," said Boutelle on the study published in Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology.

She explained that there was very little long term impact on overeating in the appetite awareness group but a significant reduction in overeating was found in the cue-exposure group, even so much as six months post-treatment.

There was only a small effect on body weight and no effect on reported calories eaten in either group, the authors wrote.

However, both treatment groups resulted in a decrease in binge eating in both children and parents.

"These findings are exciting because they offer a completely new paradigm for controlling overeating and binge eating," Boutelle said.