Does “mindful eating” help you lose weight? That’s what researchers at the University of California set out to find out.
Wait. Don’t we already know that it does? Actually, we don’t.
We do know this—stress can lead to overeating, especially mindless eating when you’re not even hungry. Stress is linked to weight gain, especially belly fat, plus increases in blood sugar and blood fats.
And we know this—learning mindfulness helps people regulate their emotions, including eating habits, especially when they’re stressed.
But whether mindfulness training actually helps people lose more weight than regular dieting hasn’t been rigorously studied in a double-blind randomized controlled trial.
Until now. And there are indeed benefits to dieters—just not the ones that were expected.
BREATHE DEEPLY, FEEL YOUR HUNGER
The California researchers studied about 200 obese men and women with an average age of 48. Participants didn’t have diabetes, nor were they taking any medications that affected weight. About half of them entered into a standard weight-loss program for 16 weeks—healthy food choices leading to cutting calories by about 500 calories a day plus daily exercise such as walking and strength training. Once they completed the program, they were followed up over the next 14 months.
The second group went through the same diet/exercise program but also worked with a trainer on mindfulness-based eating awareness, including meditation, with specific emphasis on becoming aware of the feelings of hunger, taste, cravings, emotions and other eating triggers.
• The mindful dieters did lose a little more weight than the regular dieters—more than one year after the study ended, they weighed about nine pounds less than at the beginning, compared to about five pounds less for the regular dieters. However, it wasn’t statistically significant, which means it may have been due to chance.
• Much more statistically significant were differences in cardio-metabolic health. Fasting blood sugar for the regular dieters crept up about 4 mg/dl, but it dropped about 4 mg/dl for the mindful group.
• Triglycerides—blood fats associated with diabetes risk—went down for only the mindfulness group, too.
• The triglyceride/HDL ratio, an indicator of metabolic syndrome, which raises the risk for both heart disease and diabetes, improved only for the mindfulness group.
There was also a hint in the data that those who meditated the most lost the most weight and had the best improvements in health measurements. Interestingly, those who liked their mindfulness trainer did better than those who didn’t feel good about the trainer.
Bottom line? Mindfulness-based eating might help you lose a little extra weight. But even if it doesn’t, there’s a good chance that it’ll make you significantly healthier. To learn more, see the Bottom Line article, Mind-Body Diet Tricks That Work.