A feasibility study to reduce emotional eating during periods of ‘lockdown’ – use of a biopsychosocial-spiritual model of health

A feasibility study to reduce emotional eating during periods of ‘lockdown’ – use of a biopsychosocial-spiritual model of health

Eligibility: UK/EU graduates with the required entry requirements

PhD funding award: Bursary plus tuition fees (UK/EU)

Duration: Full-Time – between three and three and a half years fixed term

Application deadline:15th of August 2020

Interview date: Will be confirmed to shortlisted candidates

Start date: September 2020/Jan 2021. Subject to discussion and agreement

For further details contact: Deborah Lycett


Obesity and diabetes combine with Covid-19 to form a ‘vicious cycle’. Firstly, being obese , and having diabetes , puts individuals at greater risk of contracting a severe form of the virus and dying from it. Secondly, reduced mental well-being, loneliness and boredom are associated with periods of ‘lockdown’ and present an increased trigger for emotional eating. This in turn leads to the consumption of foods high in saturated fat and foods with a high glycaemic index . Such increased intake of these foods creates a deterioration in glycaemic control, hyperinsulinemia and increased adiposity, thereby further increasing Covid-19 associated risks .

Weight management interventions currently recommended in many national health services, both commercial ones e.g. Slimming World and Weight Watchers, as well as healthcare professional-led ones help only a third of people to control their weight and their effects on weight maintenance are limited. This may be because they not adequately address the root causes of a compulsive eating.

We, and others, have shown that interventions that focus more on biosychosocial-spiritual health and less on calorie restriction hold additional promise, particularly for those who struggle with emotional eating.

The need for such interventions is now greater with problems triggered and intensified during lockdown. These interventions also need to be adapted to be suitable for remote, digital delivery so they can be accessed when the need is greatest. However, such interventions are currently inaccessible through prescribing or signposting in the many national health services. For this to occur they need to be trialled, and found to be feasible and acceptable, in the context of national health services.

Brief Interventions that screen for a particular problem (Ask), raising awareness during routine consultations with healthcare professionals (Advise), and refer or signpost to services (Act) have been shown to be effective for addictive behaviours to alcohol , , tobacco and uncomplicated obesity . They offer a working model that could be adapted to address emotional and compulsive eating during period of ‘lockdown’ in particular.

Details of the project 

Those affected by obesity and diabetes are at increased risk of morbidity and mortality from covid-19. Lockdown and social isolation measures, to reduce the spread of the virus, compound this problem by triggering and exacerbating emotional and compulsive eating. There are insufficient effective interventions that tackle the root cause of these problems. Additionally those that need them rarely have the opportunity to access them, as they are not embedded in national health services or compatible with remote or digital technologies. This PhD will result in a co-developed and piloted Brief Intervention making a programme for emotional eating, during periods of lockdown and isolation for controlling covid-19 and other influenza pandemics, available for those at risk of weight gain and poor glycaemic control. The results of this pilot will inform the development of a full RCT that will test comparative effectiveness of this Brief Intervention with usual care. If the RCT shows effectiveness, it will inform clinical practice and healthcare policy to help reduce obesity and diabetes-related covid-19 morbidity and mortality. Such an impact will be of benefit to individuals, public health and the health and the global economy.


Training and Development

The successful candidate will receive comprehensive research training including technical, personal and professional skills.

All researchers at Coventry University (from PhD to Professor) are part of the Doctoral College and Centre for Research Capability and Development, which provides support with high-quality training and career development activities. 

Candidate specification

  • A minimum of a 2:1 first degree in a relevant discipline/subject area with a minimum 60% mark in the project element or equivalent with a minimum 60% overall module average. 
    the potential to engage in innovative research and to complete the PhD within a 3.5 years
  • a minimum of English language proficiency (IELTS overall minimum score of 7.0 with a minimum of 6.5 in each component)


  • Experience working as a healthcare professional would be advantageous

How to apply 

All applications require full supporting documentation, a covering letter, plus an up to 2000-word supporting statement showing how the applicant’s expertise and interests are relevant to the project. 

To informally register your interest please contact Professor Deborah Lycett in the first instance.

Apply to Coventry University