Towards a qualitative theory of the interruption of eating behavior change.

Fiche publication

Date publication

janvier 2024


Journal of theoretical biology


Membres identifiés du Cancéropôle Est :
Dr MULLER Laurent

Tous les auteurs :
Dague P, Muller L, Paulevé L, Irigoin-Guichandut M


The poor maintenance of eating behavior change is one of the main obstacles to minimizing weight regain after weight loss during diets for non-surgical care of obese or overweight patients. We start with a known informal explanation of interruption in eating behavior change during severe restriction and formalize it as a causal network involving psychological variables, which we extend with energetic variables governed by principles of thermodynamics. The three core phenomena of dietary behavior change, i.e., non-initiation, initiation followed by discontinuation and initiation followed by non-discontinuation, are expressed in terms of the value of the key variable representing mood or psychological energy, the fluctuation of which is the result of three causal relationships. Based on our experimental knowledge of the time evolution profile of the three causal input variables, we then proceed to a qualitative analysis of the resulting theory, i.e., we consider an over-approximation of it which, after discretization, can be expressed in the form of a finite integer-based model. Using Answer Set Programming, we show that our formal model faithfully reproduces the three phenomena and, under a certain assumption, is minimal. We generalize this result by providing all the minimal models reproducing these phenomena when the possible causal relationships exerted on mood are extended to all the other variables (not just those assumed in the informal explanation), with arbitrary causality signs. Finally, by a direct analytical resolution of an under-approximation of our theory, obtained by assuming linear causalities, as a system of linear ODEs, we find exactly the same minimal models, proving that they are also equal to the actual minimal models of our theory since these are framed below and above by the models of the under-approximation and the over-approximation. We determine which parameters need to be person-specific and which can be considered invariant, i.e., we explain inter-individual variability. Our approach could pave the way for universally accepted theories in the field of behavior change and, more broadly, in other areas of psychology.

Mots clés

Answer set programming, Behavior change, Causal network, Discretization, Formal theory, Hypocaloric diet, Inter-individual variability, Over-/under-approximation, Qualitative reasoning, Thermodynamics, Timescale


J Theor Biol. 2024 01 9;:111731