Improve Eating Behavior in Obese Cancer Survivors with Mindfulness

Improve Eating Behavior in Obese Cancer Survivors with Mindfulness


By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.


“Mindful eating helps you distinguish between emotional and physical hunger. It also increases your awareness of food-related triggers and gives you the freedom to choose your response to them.” – Adda Bjarnadottir


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. External eating is non-homeostatic eating in response to the environmental stimuli that surround us, including the sight and smell of food or the sight of food related cause such as the time of day or a fast food restaurant ad or sign.


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.


A mindfulness training technique that was developed to treat addictions called Mindfulness-Oriented Recovery Enhancement (MORE) involves 10 weekly sessions of 2 hours and includes mindful breathing and body scan meditations, cognitive reappraisal to decrease negative emotions and craving, and savoring to augment natural reward processing and positive emotion. Participants are also encouraged to practice at home for 15 minutes per day. It is not known if MORE is effective in changing eating behavior in obese women cancer survivors.


In today’s Research News article “Mindfulness-Oriented Recovery Enhancement Restructures Reward Processing and Promotes Interoceptive Awareness in Overweight Cancer Survivors: Mechanistic Results From a Stage 1 Randomized Controlled Trial.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at:, Thomas and colleagues recruited obese (BMI >30) women who had a cancer diagnosis either current or in remission. They were randomly assigned to receive a 10-week, 1.5-hour session, once per week, of either a standard exercise and nutrition program or the Mindfulness-Oriented Recovery Enhancement (MORE) program. The participants were measured before and after the program for body composition, eating behaviors, interoceptive awareness, savoring the moment, and attention bias toward food. In addition, they were measured for muscular electrical responses to food and non-food pictures to assess responsiveness to cues.

They found that in comparison to baseline and the exercise and nutrition program Mindfulness-Oriented Recovery Enhancement (MORE) produced significantly greater increases in smiling to natural reward cues, and interoceptive awareness including increases in noticing body sensations, attention regulation, self-regulation, and body listening, and significant decreases in attentional responsiveness to food cues and external eating. Using a path analysis, they found that MORE had its effects on attentional responsiveness to food cues directly and also indirectly by its positive effects on attention bias toward natural reward cues that, in turn, negatively affected their responsiveness to food cues. Finally, these decreases in attentional responsiveness to food cues were related to decreases in the participants’ waist to hip ratio.


These results are interesting and suggest that Mindfulness-Oriented Recovery Enhancement (MORE) may reduce inappropriate responsiveness to food in obese women with cancer by increasing their awareness of their internal state (interoceptive awareness) and their responsiveness to natural reward cues. Hence, the training makes the women more sensitive to their actual internal state which makes them more responsive to real hunger and satiety and less responsive to non-homeostatic eating signals. In addition, it appears to allow them to receive more reward from non-food related natural stimuli and thereby reduce their need to receive reward through eating. Thus, MORE appears to improve obese women’s ability to better regulate their eating behavior.


So, improve eating behavior in obese cancer survivors with mindfulness.


“Mindfulness practice helps individuals develop skills for self-regulation by improving awareness of emotional and sensory cues, which are also important in altering one’s relationship with food.” –  Sunil Daniel


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ and on Twitter @MindfulResearch


Study Summary


Thomas, E. A., Mijangos, J. L., Hansen, P. A., White, S., Walker, D., Reimers, C., … Garland, E. L. (2019). Mindfulness-Oriented Recovery Enhancement Restructures Reward Processing and Promotes Interoceptive Awareness in Overweight Cancer Survivors: Mechanistic Results From a Stage 1 Randomized Controlled Trial. Integrative cancer therapies, 18, 1534735419855138. doi:10.1177/1534735419855138



Introduction: The primary aims of this Stage I pilot randomized controlled trial were to establish the feasibility of integrating exercise and nutrition counseling with Mindfulness-Oriented Recovery Enhancement (MORE), a novel intervention that unites training in mindfulness, reappraisal, and savoring skills to target mechanisms underpinning appetitive dysregulation a pathogenic process that contributes to obesity among cancer survivors; to identify potential therapeutic mechanisms of the MORE intervention; and to obtain effect sizes to power a subsequent Stage II trial. Methods: Female overweight and obese cancer survivors (N = 51; mean age = 57.92 ± 10.04; 88% breast cancer history; 96% white) were randomized to one of two 10-week study treatment conditions: (a) exercise and nutrition counseling or (b) exercise and nutrition counseling plus the MORE intervention. Trial feasibility was assessed via recruitment and retention metrics. Measures of therapeutic mechanisms included self-reported interoceptive awareness, maladaptive eating behaviors, and savoring, as well as natural reward responsiveness and food attentional bias, which were evaluated as psychophysiological mechanisms. Results: Feasibility was demonstrated by 82% of participants who initiated MORE receiving a full dose of the intervention. Linear mixed models revealed that the addition of MORE led to significantly greater increases in indices of interoceptive awareness, savoring, and natural reward responsiveness, and, significantly greater decreases in external eating behaviors and food attentional bias—the latter of which was significantly associated with decreases in waist-to-hip ratio. Path analysis demonstrated that the effect of MORE on reducing food attentional bias was mediated by increased zygomatic electromyographic activation during attention to natural rewards. Conclusions and Implications: MORE may target appetitive dysregulatory mechanisms implicated in obesity by promoting interoceptive awareness and restructuring reward responsiveness.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *