Feeding behaviour refers to the intake of any food. A person who has eaten only chocolate all day may have been well-fed, but is certainly not well-nourished. Good nutrition means the act of eating properly, as far as both quality and quantity are concerned.
Feeding behaviour is more primitive, unconscious and less rational than nutrition, which can be considered more intelligent and is scientifically substantiated.
Behaviour is regulated by a complex mechanism of hunger and satiation, but it is important to understand that emotions, anxiety, depressive moods and other negative psychological factors can profoundly alter feeding, as well as nutritional behaviour.
In nutritional guidelines aimed at weight loss, the person is told what to do and what to eat, but feels powerless when it comes to doing so. It is stronger than his desire to prevent undesirable behaviour. A person becomes hungry not in the absence of food, but in the absence of pleasure.
When eating offers temporary relief from negative feelings of anxiety, the guilt becomes even stronger, leading people to eat more in order to ease tension.
A fat person tries to avoid eating fatty foods in addition to a range of situations and activities. He reduces his physical activity because of lack of confidence.
Fat persons avoid going to places where they have to expose their bodies, which has an impact on their social life and isolates them even further. The fat person does not seem to realise that the isolation is due to their behaviour, and not their appearance.
This anxiety increases loneliness, which in turn reinforces anxiety. With the pressures of a poor quality of life and growing anxiety, food assumes the role of a stress reducer, and often becomes the sole object of pleasure.
Self denial of pleasure leads a person to reject their own body and also leads to an infantile dependence on food, which eventually turns into a vicious cycle.
The most tenuous signs of anxiety, even before a person becomes aware that they can be cushioned by the act of eating, are automatic. From birth, the child establishes a bond with the mother through breastfeeding.
The first sensations of anxiety (an unpleasant and negative feeling) are experienced when the baby is hungry.
The anxiety is relieved when the child is fed (satiety). As he grows, he receives influences of family and culture that help shape his eating style, deeply associated with positive and negative emotions and hardly modifiable by persuasion and information.
Examples of this are patients that are well-motivated and driven professionals. Even when they are given balanced nutritional guidance, they end up behaving irrationally and sabotaging the diet at some point of time.
This shows that feeding behaviour is governed by dark emotions and not reason, and people are often unprepared for nutritional guidance.
This way, obesity becomes a maladaptive form of feeding behaviour that attempts to cover up problems that become progressively insoluble, gradually reducing a person's options in life.
Psychologists need to collaborate with medical nutritionists, enabling good nutrition through the control of feeding behaviour. Acting in various ways, the psychologist can lead the patient to reassess the ‘continuum’ hunger satiety, focusing on the gains, so the fat person keeps working on self image.
Psychological treatment can treat the co-morbidities associated with obesity, such as mood disorders (depression), social phobias, personality disorders and binge eating. It can especially help in treating anxiety and leading to behavioural and lifestyle changes that are essential to weight loss and weight maintenance.