Mindful Eating May Lead to Weight Loss

Mindful Eating May Lead to Weight Loss
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When following a “mindful eating” practice, meditation helps people identify and change their eating habits, without having to count calories
A new technique that raises awareness about the cues that lead to overeating may take over as a long-term approach to weight-loss. When following a “mindful eating” practice, meditation helps people identify and change their eating habits, without having to count calories, says a new study in Complementary Therapies in Medicine.

A weight-loss MEAL

Mindful Eating and Living, or MEAL, is less of a diet and more of a shift in attitude. “In contrast to a focus on cutting calories, mindfulness helps people reduce weight and improve health by restoring the individual’s ability to detect and respond to natural cues,” explains Jeanne Dalen, lead author of the study from the Center for Family and Adolescent Research in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Designed for overweight and obese people, MEAL is a six-week training program that includes mindfulness meditation, group eating exercises, and group discussions. Pairing daily meditation with eating enables people to identify and examine eating triggers, hunger and fullness (satiety) cues, the quality of craved foods, and emotions associated with eating.

The new study included ten obese people (average age was 44) who followed the program for six weeks. They were encouraged to engage in as much mindful eating as possible and to increase their physical activity by about 5 to 10% each week. The participants were assessed during the trial and again after three months for changes in eating behavior, psychological functioning, and weight and inflammation markers.

Weight loss starts in the mind

All of the participants lost a significant amount of weight, almost nine pounds over 12 weeks, on average. A measure of inflammation in the body (C-reactive protein) decreased significantly as well. Measures of mindfulness—the ability to observe, be aware of, accept, and describe their eating patterns—saw moderate to large increases throughout the study and follow-up periods. The participants’ self-control improved dramatically, and binge eating was significantly reduced. In addition, significant improvements were seen in depressive and physical symptoms (like indigestion and headache), as well as in negative affect (mood) and perceived stress.

Although the study was only preliminary, “MEAL appears to be a promising approach to mindful eating, weight loss, and possibly for initiating a host of positive changes in health and functioning,” Dalen says. Another study to confirm these results is currently under way.

(Complement Ther Med doi:10.1016/j.ctim.2010.09.008)

Kimberly Beauchamp, ND, received her doctoral degree from Bastyr University, the nation’s premier academic institution for science-based natural medicine. She co-founded South County Naturopaths in Wakefield, RI, where she practiced whole family care with an emphasis on nutritional counseling, herbal medicine, detoxification, and food allergy identification and treatment. Her blog, Eat Happy, helps take the drama out of healthy eating with real food recipes and nutrition news that you can use. Dr. Beauchamp is a regular contributor to Healthnotes Newswire.