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How the church can help with emotional eating 

 

 

A new church-based programme to help people develop a healthier relationship with food has been piloted in St Peter's Baptist Church, Worcester.

Now more churches are needed to continue the trials of Taste & See before a wider roll out. Church member and course developer Dr Deborah Lycett explains more  


Taste and See700


Taste & See how the church can help with emotional eating… 

Taste & See is a church based programme designed to help individuals develop a healthy relationship with food. This programme came about as, after years of clinical practice helping to support those who are overweight, it became clear to me that there was no real help for people to deal holistically with the ups and downs of what is really a relapsing and remitting condition.

Many people live their lives pressurised and stigmatised by others and consumed by a drive to lose weight, their happiness is dependent on what the weighing scales say and they are plagued by guilt as a result of gaining weight or ‘eating the wrong thing’. These negative emotions often then lead to emotional or compulsive eating and compound the problem.

I believe the church has something unique to offer those struggling with these issues; a haven of non-judgemental acceptance, freedom from guilt through Jesus and an open place, where anyone can journey through life’s difficulties, including problems relating to food and weight, with the support of others and with faith. If the church can show that it can effectively offer spiritually based support in this area, it opens up the opportunity for churches to reach out to their local communities and provide real hope to a society which is struggling under the ever growing burden of weight related diseases.


The need for clinical research

However, to make a real difference to public health, through improving spiritual as well as physical well-being, church run programmes need to be taken seriously by policy makers. In order for this to happen they must be proven effective using robust methods of clinical research.

This clinical research fits into my role as Reader (Associate Professor) in nutrition, dietetics and spiritual health at Coventry University, where I lead research investigating the role of religion and spirituality in nutrition related diseases. The impact of religion and spirituality on health is a growing area of scientific enquiry which is showing positive results.

The Taste & See programme combines what we know about healthy eating and weight loss psychology, it encourages individuals to eat intuitively in response to physical sensations of hunger and fullness within a Christian message of freedom. Its aim is to help people achieve a healthy body, mind and spirit, yet be accessible to people of all faiths and none.


Results of the pilot 

We tested the feasibility of an early version of the programme in St Peter’s Baptist Church, Worcester and found at the end of the programme there were improvements in objective measures of spiritual well-being, uncontrolled eating, emotional eating, and mental well-being. Improvements in healthy eating resulted in individuals eating less fat and sugar even six months after the programme ended.

We also explored participant’s experiences of taking part and found that for most people, the idea of bringing God into their eating problems was not something they had done before; this was largely due to feelings of guilt and shame. As participants journeyed through the course they began accepting God’s help in this area, learning to love themselves as God loves them; this was an important foundation for developing a healthier attitude towards food.

As well going on a spiritual journey, participants also journeyed emotionally from restrictive, fearful eating into a new guiltless freedom to enjoy food; which was not accompanied by weight gain.

 


“I just have whatever I want really. Today I [ate] without too much guilt attached to it... they weren’t horrendous breakfasts but it was really nice to be released from that [guilt], because I’m not going through all morning feeling that I’ve failed already, which is kind of the norm.” Participant quote



More churches needed to trial the Taste & See Programme

We have now developed the Taste & See programme so that it can be delivered in any church by anyone who is confident to facilitate a small group over 10 weeks to watch a DVD, discuss what it contains, and complete weekly ‘homework’ tasks. You don’t need to be a health professional or a theologian as all the information is on the DVD.

Currently we are part way through a clinical trial investigating the effect of participating in this programme compared to a control condition; where a small number of churches have to wait the length of the intervention before they can take part. This allows us to collect and compare data on those who do the programme with those who don’t – so that we can see whether the effect of the programme is greater than what would naturally happen over time.

So that it is a fair test we have to allocate churches at random to whether they start the programme straight away or are in the ‘wait-list control’. This type of trial is known as a randomised controlled trial and is a gold standard way of testing clinical efficacy.

We are looking for a limited number of churches to join our trial and run the programme. As this is research we are offering the programme free of charge to compensate for churches needing to accept their random allocation and participants needing to complete several questionnaires. The questionnaires are available online as well as in paper copy and need to be completed at the start, after 10 weeks and a few times after the programme has been completed.



 

For further information or if your church would like to take part please see tastes.coventry.ac.uk or contact Deborah: ab5042@coventry.ac.uk


Dr Deborah Lycett is Reader (Associate Professor) in Nutrition, Dietetics and Spiritual Health at Coventry University, she has over 20 years clinical experience as a registered dietitian in the NHS and in private practice. She is married to Tim and they have two daughters (19 and 16 years old). They also have two very cheeky dogs!

 


“I would say I would recommend it to everyone; yeah, I would recommend it to everyone” Participant quote

Baptist Times, 25/01/2018
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