Application of three different coaching strategies through a virtual coach for people with emotional eating: a vignette study

Aranka Dol*, Christina Bode, Hugo Velthuijsen, Tatjana van Strien, Lisette van Gemert-Pijnen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)
49 Downloads (Pure)


Background: Around 13% of the world’s population suffers from obesity. More than 40% of people with obesity display emotional eating behaviour (eating in response to negative emotions or distress). It is an alternate to more effective coping strategies for negative emotions. Our study explored the opportunities for helping adults with emotional overeating using a virtual coach, aiming to identify preferences for tailored coaching strategies applicable in a personal virtual coach environment. Three different coaching strategies were tested: a validating, a focus-on-change, and a dialectical one – the latter being a synthesis of the first two strategies. Methods: A qualitative study used vignettes reflecting the two most relevant situations for people with emotional eating: 1. experiencing negative emotions, with ensuing food cravings; and 2. after losing control to emotional eating, with ensuing feelings of low self-esteem. Applied design: 2 situations × 3 coaching strategies. Participants: 71 adult women (Mage 44.4/years, range 19–70, SD = 12.86) with high scores on the DEBQ-emotional eating scale (Memo 3.65, range 1.69–4.92, SD =.69) with mean BMI 30.1 (range 18–46, SD = 6.53). They were recruited via dieticians’ practices, were randomly assigned to the conditions and asked how they would face and react to the presented coaching strategies. Data were transcribed and a thematic analysis was conducted. Results: Qualitative results showed that participants valued both the validating coaching strategy and the focus-on-change strategy, but indicated that a combination of validation and focus-on-change provides both mental support and practical advice. Data showed that participants differed in their level of awareness of the role that emotions play in their overeating and the need for emotion-regulation skills. Conclusion: The design of the virtual coach should be based on dialectical coaching strategies as preferred by participants with emotional eating behaviour. It should be tailored to the different stages of awareness of their emotions and individual emotion-regulation skills.

Original languageEnglish
Article number13
JournalJournal of Eating Disorders
Issue number1
Early online date14 Jan 2021
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2021


  • Dialectical behavioural therapy
  • Emotional eating
  • Obesity
  • Personalized coaching
  • UT-Gold-D


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