Mindfulness Effects on Eating Disorders Depends on Ethnicity
By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.
“The practice of mindful eating may be helpful to those struggling with eating disorders, such as bulimia, binge eating disorder and compulsive overeating. It is common for individuals with eating disorders to numb emotions through restricting, binging or choosing foods that are not pleasurable while eating. Mindful eating can help a person reconnect to the joy and experience of eating by creating an awareness of thoughts, emotions, feeling, and behaviors associated with the eating experience.” – Julia Casidy
Around 30 million people in the United States of all ages and genders suffer from an eating disorder; either anorexia nervosa, bulimia, or binge eating disorder. 95% of those who have eating disorders are between the ages of 12 and 26. Eating disorders are not just troubling psychological problems, they can be deadly, having the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. Eating disorders can be difficult to treat because eating is necessary and cannot be simply stopped as in smoking cessation or abstaining from drugs or alcohol. One must learn to eat appropriately not stop. So, it is important to find methods that can help prevent and treat eating disorders. Contemplative practices, mindfulness, and mindful eating have shown promise for treating eating disorders.
In today’s Research News article “Mindfulness as a Moderator of the Association Between Eating Disorder Cognition and Eating Disorder Behavior Among a Non-clinical Sample of Female College Students: A Role of Ethnicity.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2018.00700/full?utm_source=F-AAE&utm_medium=EMLF&utm_campaign=MRK_695451_69_Psycho_20180705_arts_A ), Masuda and colleagues recruited college women and had them complete online demographic characteristics including racial identity and body size and measures of eating disorder behaviors, mindfulness, and the thought patterns associated with eating disorders (eating disorder cognitions). These include “rigid beliefs about the importance of weight regulation, strong beliefs in appearance as the basis of self-worth, and inflexible beliefs in self-control as the basis of self-esteem.”
They found that the higher the levels of mindfulness the lower the levels of eating disorder cognitions but only for Asian and white American and not black women mindfulness was also associated with lower levels of eating disorder behaviors. They then performed a hierarchical regression to determine moderation effects and found that only for white women mindfulness moderated the effects of eating disorder cognitions on eating disorder behaviors such that high mindfulness significantly weakened the association of cognitions with behavior.
These are interesting results that suggest that how young women think about eating disorders affects eating disordered behavior. Mindfulness only appeared to influence this association for a single racial group, white American women. Since most research with eating disorders is performed with young white women, these results call into question the generalizability of mindfulness ability to reduce eating disorders. It would appear to be not true for black and Asian American women. Why mindfulness effects differ between racial groups is unknown and will require future research to investigate.
What is clear is that how a woman thinks about her weight and self-worth is a significant contributor to the potential development of an eating disorder. This predicts that perhaps Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) might be particularly useful in treating or preventing eating disorders particularly in white women.
“Practicing mindfulness techniques has proven to be extremely helpful in aiding individuals to understand the driving forces behind their eating disorder. . . students receiving mindfulness demonstrated significant reductions in weight and shape concern, dietary restraint, thin-ideal internalization, eating disorder symptoms, and psychosocial impairment.”
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies
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Masuda A, Marshall RD and Latner JD (2018) Mindfulness as a Moderator of the Association Between Eating Disorder Cognition and Eating Disorder Behavior Among a Non-clinical Sample of Female College Students: A Role of Ethnicity. Front. Psychol. 9:700. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2018.00700
The present cross-sectional study examined whether mindfulness moderated the association between eating disorder cognition and eating disorder behaviors among Asian American, Black American, and White American female college students in the United States. Participants (N = 463, age range = 18–25 years) completed self-report measures online. Results revealed that mindfulness moderated the association between eating disorder cognition and eating disorder behavior in the White American group, but not in Asian American or Black American samples. Future research should replicate these differential findings across ethnic groups and investigate the factors that may contribute to this group difference.