— Dawn M. Sweet, Ph.D.
Mindful eating holds promise for managing food cravings and helping those with adhere to dietary recommendations.
Affecting 30.3 million people in the United States and over 380 and million people around the world, type 2 diabetes has been characterized as the costliest chronic disease.1 Challenges such as food cravings, a desire to eat specific types of foods, and mindless/emotional eating can make it difficult to follow dietary guidelines.1 Additionally, easy access to sugar-laden foods, such as soft drinks and processed foods, and mindless eating while watching television or multitasking can lead to eating past the point of satiety and result in metabolic dysregulation.2
Successfully managing and treating type 2 diabetes and pre-diabetes requires a steadfast commitment to following dietary recommendations and developing positive coping mechanisms to mitigate food cravings and to be aware of mindless eating and eating beyond the point of satiety. One promising approach for mitigating food cravings is behavioral change via training in mindfulness and mindful eating.2,3 Grounded in the principles of mindfulness, training patients with obesity in the practice of mindful eating may give them one more tool to help manage food cravings and adhere to dietary recommendations.
Mindfulness and Mindful Eating
According to a study supported by the National Center for Health Statistics,4 mediation, which is a mindfulness practice, was among the top five most often used behaviors as part of a complementary health approach. Mindfulness is defined as purposeful and non-judgmental attention to the present moment.5 Mindful eating, a form of mindfulness, is an approach to food that is characterized by paying purposeful attention to our food,6 and it can disrupt automatic responses to food and inattention to emotional triggers that precipitate a habituated response to satisfying food cravings. Mindfulness training has been found to have positive effects on weight loss and the reduction of abdominal fat as well offering promise for treating psychological comorbidities, e.g., emotional eating.3
Effects of Mindfulness and Mindful Eating
As part of a randomized trial, mindful eating was investigated as a possible mechanism that underlies the effects of a mindfulness training intervention for weight loss relative to sugar-laden foods and fasting glucose levels.2 Adults with obesity (N=194), defined as a BMI of ³ 30 were randomly assigned to mindfulness-based eating intervention or an active control group. The majority of participants were White females (Mage=47) with a BMIavg of 35.5 kg/m2. Participants were randomly assigned to either a mindfulness group or an active control group. Over the course of five-and-a-half months, participants in each group attended in person sessions that included information on diet and exercise. The diet component focused on a daily 500 calorie reduction and the exercise component focused increasing activity via aerobic and anaerobic exercise.
Participants in the mindfulness group also received mindfulness training and mindful eating training. The mindful eating training included guided eating meditations focused on physical hunger, satiety, and taste; mini-mediations before meals; and identification of food cravings and emotional eating triggers. Participants in this group were taught to savor food and to be aware of food textures and tastes. They were not instructed to avoid specific foods. Participants in the active control group received additional information about nutrition and physical activity and how sociopolitical issues impact food choices. This was done to ensure equivalence across groups.
Results suggest that the mindfulness intervention group reported increases in mindful eating from baseline to 12 months while both groups similarly reduced eating sweets from baseline to six and 12 months. However, only the mindfulness intervention group maintained reducing their intake of sweets from six to 12 months. Fasting glucose did not increase for participants in the mindfulness group compared to counterparts in the active control group. Overall, these results suggest that a mindfulness-based intervention can help individuals reduce their intake of sweets and improve fasting glucose levels.
Consider a Mindfulness-Based Approach to Help with Weight Loss
Including a mindful eating program as part of a traditional weight loss program may help patients with obesity reduce the intake of sweets long-term. A mindful approach to eating could help patients with obesity mitigate food cravings and emotional eating and not eat beyond the point of satiety. Clinicians should consider working with the patients with obesity to include mindful eating as part of Low Calorie Diet (LCD) and a strategy to mitigate unhealthy eating habits.
- Examining the effects of mindful eating training on adherence to a Carbohydrate-Restricted diet in patients with type 2 diabetes (the DELISH study): protocol for a randomized controlled trial
- Effects of a mindfulness-based intervention on mindful eating, sweets consumption, and fasting glucose levels in obese adults: data from the SHINE randomized controlled trial
- Mindful eating with diabetes
- Trends in the use of complementary health approaches among adults: United States 2002 – 2012
- Mindfulness-based interventions in context: past, present, and future
- Mindful eating: The art of presence while you eat
About the Author: Dr. Dawn M. Sweet has over 20 years of experience in the field of communication. Sweet has given several invited talks to and workshops for academic and private sector audiences on the role of nonverbal and verbal communication in achieving positive outcomes and mitigating bias. Her research has been published in several top ranked peer-review journals, and it has been featured on NPR’s River to River / All Things Considered, Buzzfeed, and Science Daily. Her research has also been used to inform expert testimony.