Obesity has become an epidemic in the industrialized world. In the U.S. the incidence of obesity, defined as a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 30 or above has more than doubled over the last 35 years to currently around 35% of the population. Although the incidence rates have appeared to stabilize, the fact that over a third of the population is considered obese is very troubling.
It is troubling because of the health consequences of obesity. Obesity has been found to shorten life expectancy by eight years and extreme obesity by 14 years. This is because obesity is associated with cardiovascular problems such as coronary heart disease and hypertension, stroke, metabolic syndrome, diabetes, cancer, arthritis, and others. Obviously there is a need for effective treatments to prevent or treat obesity. But, despite copious research and a myriad of dietary and exercise programs, there still is no safe and effective treatment.
Mindfulness is known to be associated with lower risk for obesity (see http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2015/07/17/eat-mindfully-and-have-a-healthier-weight/). This suggests that mindfulness training may be an effective treatment for overeating and obesity. In today’s Research News article “Mindfulness-Based Interventions for Obesity-Related Eating Behaviors: A Literature Review”
O’Reilly and colleagues reviewed the published research on mindfulness interventions for obesity related eating behaviors. They concluded that the research demonstrates that mindfulness based interventions are effective for reducing the incidence of some obesity related behaviors that lead to overeating; binge eating, emotional eating, and external eating.
Binge eating disorder involves regularly eating far more food than most people would in a similar time period under similar circumstances and feeling that eating is out of control. It’s the most common eating disorder and is estimated to affect 2.8 million U.S. adults of which 70% are obese. The reviewed research indicates that mindfulness based interventions had large, clinically significant effects.
Emotional eating involves the consumption of food in response to emotions and external eating involves eating in response to the stimuli that are associated with food such as the sight, smell, and taste of food. Both of these eating patterns are associated with overweight and both are effectively reduced with mindfulness based interventions.
One way that mindfulness appears to have its effects on eating results from mindfulness improving emotion regulation. It has been well demonstrated that mindfulness improves the individual’s ability to regulate their emotions, reducing their intensity and responding more effectively and appropriately to them. So, the individual feels the emotion mindfully and then responds not by eating but by responding in a way more appropriate to the actual emotion.
Mindfulness also appears to affect eating by making the individual more sensitive to their internal state of hunger and satiety. By improving present moment awareness, mindfulness helps the individual be more in touch with the sensations from their body. This makes them more sensitive to their state of hunger and satiety, responding to these appropriate stimuli for eating and stopping eating. This then reduces mindless eating to emotions and food cues.
These findings are important and suggest that mindfulness based interventions may be useful in the treatment and prevention of obesity.
So, be mindful and control your eating.
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies