July 09, 2008

Treatment program will help those who overeat

by K.C. Jaehnig

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Compulsive gambling and compulsive eating have more in common than you might think.

“It’s choice-making,” says Mark R. Dixon, a behavior analyst at Southern Illinois University Carbondale whose research on addictions has focused most recently on gambling.

“Gamblers don’t know when to quit, they continue to do things that are detrimental to their own wellbeing. We see the same choices in drug users -- and in those who overeat. They all make less-than-optimal choices that have significant health and psychological outcomes.”

After developing successful treatment programs for drug and gambling addicts, Dixon is turning his attention to folks who have problems with food. He now is looking for people to take part in a free, intensive program aimed at helping them turn bad choices into good ones.

“Everyone knows that diet and exercise are the keys to losing weight -- the question is, why don’t people do those things,” Dixon says.

“That’s where we’re going to go: to find out why, to identify triggers in the environment and in their lives that lead to these less-than-optimal choices and then provide them with strategies to counteract that so that at the end of eight weeks they will have the tools to go out and live their lives without being dependent on the therapist to be there for them forever.”

The program, which can take 12 to 15 people, will begin sometime this fall and consist of eight weekly one-hour individual sessions held at the Rehabilitation Institute in Rehn Hall on the SIUC campus. Therapists, all doctoral students in the institute’s behavior analysis program, will tailor the sessions, both in content and appointment times, to individual needs.

“It’s not a blanket approach,” Dixon says.

“We will design around specific cases, looking at why people became overweight in the first place, what kinds of food choices they make -- and the goals will be different. Success for one person might be losing 10 pounds. Another person might have lower cholesterol. Someone else might be able to walk up the stairs or run around outside with their kids without feeling tired.

“We’re not focusing on everybody dropping 5 percent on the body mass index -- you can lose weight and still be a psychological mess. We’re focusing on the individual first and letting the physical, tangible measures come second, though I think the weight will come off as an automatic kind of thing, following naturally from having a better educated and psychologically prepared person.”

Because the program is new, it has no entry requirements other than a desire to lose weight.

“Later on, we might have to limit it in terms of staff restraints, and if we begin to do research in this area, we might have to restrict it to certain populations, but at this point, the research is secondary -- service is the primary focus,” Dixon says.

Those who wish to enroll or find out more can e-mail Dixon at mdixon@siu.edu or call him at 618/453-8275.