As the holiday season draws to a close, many of us may be struggling with the extra weight we put on during extensive, food-filled celebrations with family and friends. Can mindfulness techniques come to our aid in getting rid of those extra pounds?
According to anecdotal evidence and some existing research, mindfulness techniques can help a person maintain or improve their physical and mental well-being.
The principle behind mindfulness is very simple: One has to be fully present in the moment, focusing attention on external stimuli and their effects on the body and mind, learning to concomitantly acknowledge and dismiss unnecessary thoughts.
Thus, learning mindfulness techniques can help us tone down the effects of stress and regain more enjoyment in present experiences.
Recently, researchers have suggested that mindfulness can also aid a person in their weight loss efforts.
A new study from the University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire National Health Services Trust in the United Kingdom — in collaboration with other clinical and research institutions — confirms these and similar findings.
"This research is significant, as we have shown that problematic eating behavior can be improved with mindfulness application," says the study's first author, Petra Hanson, a research fellow and doctoral student at the Warwickshire Institute for the Study of Diabetes Endocrinology and Metabolism at University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire.
'Enabling appropriate lifestyle decisions'
The research team worked with 53 individuals participating in a dedicated weight management program at University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire National Health Services Trust.
Of the participants, 33 took part in at least three of four mindfulness training sessions, which taught them to practice mindfulness while eating.
Over the next 6 months, the participants who had attended three or four mindfulness sessions lost, on average, 3 kilograms (about 6.6 pounds), while those who had only attended one or two mindfulness sessions lost an average of 0.9 kilograms (around 2 pounds).
Moreover, when compared with a control group of 20 participants who attended the same weight management program but no mindfulness sessions, the individuals who had received complete mindfulness training shed an average of 2.85 kilograms (almost 6.3 pounds) more.
"Surveys of the participants indicate [that] mindfulness training can help this population improve their relationship with food," explains Hanson. Mindfulness, she explains, can help people change and manage their eating behaviors with more ease.
"Individuals who completed the course said they were better able to plan meals in advance and felt more confident in self-management of weight loss moving forward," says Hanson, adding, "Similar courses can be held in a primary care setting or even developed into digital tools."
She expresses hope that "[t]his approach can be scaled up to reach a wider population."
"Mindfulness has huge potential as a strategy for achieving and maintaining good health and well-being," comments senior author Dr. Thomas Barber, from the Warwickshire Institute for the Study of Diabetes Endocrinology and Metabolism.
The researcher notes that many pressing chronic diseases are linked, to some extent, with lifestyle behaviors and concludes:
"[The] focus should be on enabling the populace to make appropriate lifestyle decisions and empowering subsequent salutary behavior change. In the context of obesity and eating-related behaviors, we have demonstrated that mindfulness techniques can do just that."
Dr. Thomas Barber