Reduce Emotional Eating with Mindfulness
By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.
“It wasn’t until I began to eat mindfully that I realized why I was eating so much, and why it was so hard to change. I started to realize how much of a crutch food was for me, and how I used it to deal with so many emotions.” – Leo Babauta
Eating is produced by two categories of signals. Homeostatic signals emerge from the body’s need for nutrients, is associated with feelings of hunger, and usually work to balance intake with expenditure. Non-homeostatic eating, on the other hand, is not tied to nutrient needs or hunger but rather to the environment, to emotional states, and or to the pleasurable and rewarding qualities of food. These cues can be powerful signals to eat even when there is no physical need for food. Emotional eating is non-homeostatic eating in response to strong negative emotions. It is an attempt to assuage the uncomfortable feelings.
Mindful eating 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 may help reduce intake. Indeed, high levels of mindfulness are associated with lower levels of obesity and mindfulness training has been shown to reduce binge eating, emotional eating, and external eating. In addition, mindfulness has been shown to improve the individual’s ability to respond adaptively to emotions. Hence, it mindfulness may be an antidote to emotional eating.
In today’s Research News article “An Exploratory Study of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction for Emotional Eating.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6042285/ ), Levoy and colleagues recruited participants in an 8-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program. MBSR consists of meditation, yoga, and body scan practices and discussion. The program meets once a week for 2.3 hours and has assigned homework. The participants were measured before and after the program for body size, mindfulness, emotional eating, and perceived stress.
They found that after the program there was a significant increase in mindfulness and a significant reduction in emotional eating. In addition, the greater the increase in mindfulness, the greater the decrease in emotional eating. It should be noted that there wasn’t a control comparison condition other than the baseline, so these results must be viewed cautiously as preliminary. But, the results suggest that a larger randomized controlled clinical trial is called for. They suggest that mindfulness may be an antidote to emotional eating.
So, reduce emotional eating with mindfulness.
“Mindfulness helps us distract our minds from those cravings. We can use it as a tool to really think about why we want to eat something and whether or not it’s truly good for us – or bad. Mindfulness can also help you problem solve how to feel better without hurting yourself through food or other means.” – Mindy Pelz
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies
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Levoy, E., Lazaridou, A., Brewer, J., & Fulwiler, C. (2017). An Exploratory Study of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction for Emotional Eating. Appetite, 109, 124–130. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.appet.2016.11.029
Emotional eating is an important predictor of weight loss and weight regain after weight loss. This two part study’s primary aim was to explore changes in emotional eating in a general population of individuals taking the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program, with a secondary aim to explore whether changes in mindfulness predicted changes in emotional eating. Self-reported survey data exploring these questions were collected before and after the intervention for two sequential studies (Study 1 and Study 2). While there were no control groups for either study, in both studies emotional eating scores following the MBSR were significantly lower than scores prior to taking the MBSR (p<0.001; p< 0.001) In Study 2, changes in mindfulness were correlated with changes in emotional eating (r= 0.317, p=0.004). These results suggest that MBSR may be an effective intervention for emotional eating, and that further research is warranted to examine effects on weight loss and maintenance.