Practicing mindful eating may boost heart health and improve blood glucose levels more than simply following a healthier eating plan, suggest findings from a study published in Obesity, the scientific journal of The Obesity Society (2016; doi: 10.1002/oby.21396).
“Whether eating snacks while watching the game or grazing by the dessert tray at the office event, we often find ourselves overeating not because we’re hungry, but because the food looks delicious, we’re distracted, or we wish to soothe away unpleasant feelings,” said lead study author Jennifer Daubenmier, PhD, assistant professor at the Osher Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, in an Obesity Society news release.
Investigators recruited almost 200 adults with obesity to determine the effectiveness of a mindfulness-based weight loss program. Subjects were randomly assigned to either a mindfulness group or an active-attention group for 5½ months. Everyone received identical diet and exercise guidelines. Mindfulness participants received additional training on mindfulness meditation and how to be aware of thoughts, feelings and bodily sensations during eating and exercise. Researchers collected data on weight and other metabolic markers—such as blood sugar, cholesterol and triglyceride levels—at the beginning of the study, after the intervention and 1 year later.
Data analysis showed that at the 1-year follow-up, mindfulness intervention group members had lost an average of about 4 pounds more than those in the active-attention control group. This weight loss, however, was not statistically significant. What was significant is that at the same follow-up, improvements in fasting blood glucose levels and ratios of triglycerides to HDL cholesterol were greater in mindfulness program participants. Both of these markers affect type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
“Most behavioral weight-loss interventions do not place as much emphasis on managing mindless eating, and previous studies on the topic have not included attention controls or long term follow-up to better study the contribution of mindfulness components over time,” said Deborah Tate, PhD, a spokesperson for The Obesity Society. “This research points to some of the potential benefits of enhancing the mindfulness components of behavioral weight loss.”