By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.
“When it comes to overcoming food addictions and cravings, if we learn to observe and view our craving-related thoughts and feelings as something separate from ourselves, they lose their power over us. And we can begin to take back our rightful place in the driver’s seat.” – Traci Pedersen
Craving for certain foods is an almost universal phenomenon. There are specific foods, chocolate for many, the thought of which sets off an intense desire to consume them and often food seeking to obtain and ingest them. This is normal. But, in some, food cravings, also known as specific hungers, are the source of overeating and may be a source of overweight and obesity. So, being able to cope with or control food cravings may be of assistance in reducing intake and body weight.
Mindfulness has been demonstrated to be effective in reducing food intake. It attempts to reduce intake by engendering mindful eating, which involves paying attention to eating while it is occurring, including attention to the sight, smell, flavors, and textures of food, to the process of chewing and swallowing, and to the physiological feelings of hunger and fullness from the body. Another way mindfulness can help control intake is that it can promote decentering, where the individual learns to view thoughts as just thoughts and not personal. Taking a step back from the craving for a food the individual can see that “I have a thought about wanting chocolate” is different from “I must have chocolate.”
It is not known whether mindfulness may produce reduced food cravings by engendering decentering, by another mechanism, or by producing multiple routes to lower cravings. In today’s Research News article “Food-Specific Decentering Experiences Are Associated with Reduced Food Cravings in Meditators: A Preliminary Investigation.” See:
or see summary below or view the full text of the study at:
Papies and colleagues investigate mindfulness’ and decentering’s associations with food cravings. They recruited practiced meditators and measured, meditation experience, decentering from food thoughts, awareness of food thoughts, and food cravings. They found that the greater the meditation experience the lower the food cravings. They also found that the greater the decentering from food thoughts the lower the food cravings and this association was stronger for women than for men. Finally, they demonstrated that meditation experience was only associated with lower food cravings when the meditators were low in decentering from food thoughts.
These results suggest that both meditation experience and decentering are associated with lower food cravings. Unfortunately, there were no measure of actual intake. So, it cannot be determined if the lower food cravings were associated with actually lower food intake. The fact that meditation experience was only associated with lower cravings when decentering was low may be accounted for by the fact that when decentering was high food cravings were low and there was no room for meditation experience to further lower cravings. In addition, because this study was correlational, cause and effect cannot be determined. For example, people who are low in cravings might be the types of people drawn to meditation and who are already highly decentered.
Regardless, it is clear that there are strong relationships between meditation experience and decentering of food thoughts with the levels of food craving in the individual. It will remain for future research to manipulate these variable, disentangle their respective influences, examine causal relationships, and determine if they’re associated with lower food intake. Nevertheless, the present results make it clear that this future research is justified and has the potential to lead to more effective strategies to reduce intake, overweight, and obesity.
“Mindful eating is a practice that allows us to tune in to the body’s needs and be thoughtful about how we nourish ourselves. By fully appreciating a food’s flavors and textures and being in the moment while eating, we open ourselves up to a deeper level of enjoyment, and it becomes easier to make better choices.” – Sonia Jones
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies
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Papies, E.K., van Winckel, M. & Keesman, M. Food-Specific Decentering Experiences Are Associated with Reduced Food Cravings in Meditators: A Preliminary Investigation. Mindfulness (2016) 7: 1123. doi:10.1007/s12671-016-0554-4
This study examined the association of food-specific decentering experiences with food cravings in a sample of meditators. Decentering refers to viewing one’s thoughts as transient mental events and thus experiencing them as less subjectively real. This process has been suggested to be a key mechanism underlying the effects of mindfulness and many contemplative practices. Although most earlier studies have focused on the effects of decentering with regard to negative affect, some studies have shown that brief inductions of decentering among non-meditators reduce food cravings as well as unhealthy food choices. Here, we report a preliminary investigation of whether the food-specific decentering experiences that meditators have in daily life are associated with fewer food cravings. A small sample of meditators (N = 33, female = 15) answered a number of questions about decentering experiences with regard to thoughts about food, and they completed the short version of the Food Cravings Questionnaire–Trait and a measure of meditation experience. Results confirmed that both more meditation experience and more food-specific decentering experiences were associated with fewer food cravings in daily life. In addition, results suggested that when participants had stronger decentering experiences, they experienced fewer food cravings, regardless of their level of meditation experience. Exploratory analyses further revealed that decentering was more strongly associated with reduced cravings in women than in men. These preliminary findings suggest that food-specific decentering experiences indeed help meditators deal with food desires, and thus extend the evidence for decentering effects into the domain of reward. Future research might investigate this in larger samples, validate a food-specific measure of decentering, and consider the broader implications of decentering experiences in daily life.