I’m Dr Helen McCarthy, The Appetite Doctor.
I’m really interested in bringing together research on the psychology of eating and appetite, and techniques from Clinical Psychology, to help you change how you eat.
As a Clinical Psychologist I’ve been helping people make changes for over 30 years.
I’m an Associate Fellow of the British Psychological Society. What I love most of all, is putting psychology into practice to help people overcome what’s troubling them in their relationship with food
Here’s how my work as the Appetite Doctor began . . .
One hot day in the summer of 2011, my client Megan was at the end of 12 sessions of psychological therapy with me. At 40 years old Megan had developed bulimia nervosa which had been triggered by following a Very Low Calorie meal replacement programme. I was able to treat the bulimia nervosa using conventional cognitive behavioural therapy and Megan had returned to eating normally.
Megan was relieved and delighted to have made such a positive recovery and thanked me as she left the room. On her way out of the door she turned and said, “I just wish I could lose another stone in weight”, then said goodbye and went. I was stunned. I had been able, as a Clinical Psychologist, to help Megan overcome a serious eating disorder, but I had no idea how to help her simply lose a stone. Not least because I was a stone and a half above where I wanted to be and I hadn’t managed to shift that.
Megan’s throw-away remark woke me up to the fact that all of my Clinical Psychology training and experience wasn’t up to the job of helping people lose even a moderate amount of weight.
I started to really think about eating and weight. I read research journals I’d never looked at before, to glean insights into the psychology of human appetite. I began combining this knowledge with my in-depth knowledge of psychological therapy, and through trial and error developed an approach to losing weight without dieting.
Using myself as my first guinea pig, I set myself the goal of losing a stone over the next four months.
One of the non-negotiables was that I wasn’t going to give up my favourite foods. I knew that if I tried to do that, it wouldn’t work. And I guessed that other people would be the same.
This meant experimenting with reducing quantities. My mantra for meals became “small and special”, so that I’d be maximising pleasure from everything I ate.
I rapidly discovered that when I ate less at a meal, I was hungry again by the next. Not rocket science, but I hadn’t taken much notice of whether I was hungry for as long as I could remember. Hungry felt scary at first, so I had to learn how not to feel anxious about feeling hungry.
Once the keystones of deliciousness and feelings of hunger and fullness were in place, I soon realised that the key was to work with, not against, our bodily systems which have evolved to govern appetite and eating.
Experimenting with a mix of conventional and cutting-edge psychological techniques I lost a stone and then another half. Although it took effort and focus to lose the weight, maintaining the weight loss was easy and I have kept that weight off ever since.