Disinhibition: A Powerful Player in Weight Loss Success
What is Disinhibition?
Disinhibition, as its name suggests, is a loss of inhibition or tendency to act impulsively. In the context of weight management, those with characteristically high disinhibition are prone to make food choices opportunistically and they tend to overeat. Some examples of this eating behaviour include:
- Overeating while dining with other people who are also eating large amounts of food
- Overeating in response to emotional stress
- Overeating when palatable foods are easily accessible (especially foods high in fat and sugar)
There is an important difference between lasting trait disinhibition and occasional episodes of overeating (termed the 'disinhibition effect') which involve a temporary loss of restraint in certain situations that many healthy people may experience from time to time.
The majority of research on this topic strongly suggests that disinhibition is a hereditary behaviour trait, passed on through families. The extent of genetic heritability is unclear and environmental factors are at play as well.
Certain personality traits are linked to trait disinhibition, including novelty seeking, impulsiveness, and inability to resist external cues that influence eating behaviours (for more info about environmental influences on eating check out my old blog post here).
Impact on Weight Management
Research has shown a strong association between trait disinhibition and lower quality food choices, higher body mass index (BMI) and obesity. Disinhibition is found to be a predictor of low success with losing weight as well as regain following weight loss efforts. It has been widely reported in the research that individuals with overweight and obesity have higher disinhibition scores compared to those who are normal weight, and those that had lost weight maintained higher disinhibition scores even after achieving a normal weight. It is not yet clear if disinhibition increases with increasing weight gain or if the reverse is true.
When looking at the interplay of disinhibition, hunger and restraint, disinhibition comes out as the best predictor of food consumption. Current research points to disinhibition as a strong predictor for weight regain during attempts at weight loss and it may also be predictive of success losing weight, as people with higher trait disinhibition tend to experience less weight loss. Those with high disinhibition seem to have strong preferences for (and weak satiety to) high-fat and high-sugar foods, which are known to contribute to overweight and obesity when eaten in excess.
Current research points to disinhibition as a strong predictor for weight regain during attempts at weight loss and it may also be predictive of success losing weight, as those with higher trait disinhibition tend to experience less weight loss.
Disinhibition is Linked to Eating Disorders
Research on disinhibition has found an association between this trait and binge eating disorder, bulimia nervosa, and weight cycling. While it is unknown whether disinhibition may be a cause of some eating disorders, high disinhibition paired with high restraint could be a predictor for identifying individuals at risk of eating disorders. Treatment for disinhibition may be a valuable treatment option for sufferers of eating disorders.
Behavioural control treatments could be a promising solution for lowering disinhibition scores, with medication and surgical interventions further improving success. It's important to have a conversation with your doctor and an obesity specialist about your treatment options if you struggle to control your food intake and weight. To learn more about disinhibition and how it may affect your weight loss journey, contact us today.
Bryant, E. J., King, N. A., & Blundell, J. E. (2007). Disinhibition: Its effects on appetite and weight regulation. Obesity Reviews, 9(5), 409-419. doi:10.1111/j.1467-789x.2007.00426.x