Mindful eating helps people eat less, lose weight, study finds

RALEIGH, N.C. — Practicing mindfulness can provide an assortment of benefits for boosting mental health, past research has shown, but what using it to combat obesity? Researchers say that “mindful eating” may also may help people looking to shed extra weight, a new study finds.

Dr. Carolyn Dunn, a researcher at North Carolina State University, led the study which looked at how paying particular attention to eating habits and making the most out of the first few bites of a snack or meal can help a person eat less, but feel equally satisfied.

Person licking ice cream cone
A person practicing mindful eating while enjoying an ice cream cone might pay close attention to the taste and thoughts from each lick, and find only a few bites could do the trick.

The authors surveyed 80 participants in a weight loss program run by the school called “Eat Smart, Move More, Weigh Less,” to see whether or not mindful eating actually helped people drop the pounds. The 15-week online program has participants participate in weekly lessons to “live mindfully as they learn to make healthy choices about eating and physical activity,” according to a study supplement.

Mindful eating involves a person’s ability to give full attention to their food, including how the person feels before, during, and after eating, and ensuring that they’re not partaking in any other activity during the meal. A person practicing mindful eating would soak in the enjoyment (or lack thereof) of each bite, paying extra attention to thoughts, tastes, and feelings — and thus may only have a few nibbles instead of the whole thing, especially for higher calorie foods.

Mindful eaters also plan out their snacks and meals and monitor any feelings of fullness or hunger pangs. There are no other activities going on while eating — the meal gets the mindful eater’s complete attention.

Researchers found that the 42 participants who took part in the mindful eating program lost significantly more weight than the 38 who were part of a control group that sat on a wait list to get into the program — about 4.2 pounds versus  a bit more than a half a pound — during the 15 weeks.

“Results suggest that there is a beneficial association between mindful eating and weight loss. The current study contributes to the mindfulness literature as there are very few studies that employed rigorous methodology to examine the effectiveness of an intervention on mindful eating,” the authors of the study write.

The research was presented at the 2017 European Congress on Obesity, which took place last week in Porto, Portugal. The team hopes to use the findings to make mindful eating more prominent in weight loss clinics, and they’re also studying its benefits in conjunction with a diabetes prevention program.