Eating Mindfully: Can it Help Combat Globesity?

CPD
2m

Published: 03 June 2020

The concept of mindful eating has been gaining popularity in recent years, and as the global epidemic of obesity - referred to as ‘globesity‘ by the World Health Organization (WHO) - persists, it’s not difficult to see why (O’Reilly et al. 2014; WHO 2017).

The Effects of Globesity

The WHO asserts that while obesity is a visible issue, it is often neglected. There are concerns that serious diet-related health detriments will arise if the issue of obesity is not addressed as soon as possible, resulting in preventable illness or premature death (WHO 2017).

Diet-related health conditions that may develop include:

  • Diabetes Mellitus;
  • Cardiovascular disease;
  • Hypertension;
  • Stroke; and
  • Some types of cancer.

(WHO 2017)

In Australia alone, 67% of adults and one-quarter of children are obese or overweight. Furthermore, people living in remote or ‘outer regional’ Australia are more likely to be overweight or obese than those from Australia’s main cities (AIHW 2019).

The Role of Mindful Eating

A significant number of studies of mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs) found that they facilitated improvement in targeted eating behaviours such as binge-eating, emotional eating and external eating (O’Reilly et al. 2014).

Similarly, another systematic review found that attentive eating can help influence dietary intake, which may assist in weight loss without the need of calorie-counting (Robinson et al.’s 2013).

Yet another study found that mindfulness contributed to reductions in abdominal fat (Daubenmier et al. 2011).

What Exactly is Mindful Eating?

Evidently, there is an emerging movement towards mindful eating practices in weight management. But what does ‘mindful eating’ actually involve?

  • Non-judgmental eating;
  • Acceptance of feelings whilst eating or within eating locations;
  • Self-awareness of hunger cues and becoming satisfied;
  • Deciding which foods to eat and what amount to eat;
  • Opting for nutritious and enjoyable foods;
  • Not performing other activities whilst eating (e.g. sitting down to have a meal instead of eating whilst working); and
  • Understanding the consequences of not adhering to mindful-eating practices (e.g. over-indulgence in unhealthy foods creating the potential for weight gain, ill health or undernutrition).

(Lofgren 2015)

mindful eating chart
Mindful eating involves self-awareness and focusing on eating without distractions.

Research Into Mindful Eating

Weight gain and weight regain after successfully losing weight may result from eating behaviours such as binge-eating, emotional eating, external eating and craving-related eating (Grucza, Pryzbeck & Cloninger, 2007 cited in O’Reilly et al., 2014).

Unfortunately, research suggests that most people lose weight, regain it and end up back at their initial weight or even exceed it within about five years (O’Reilly et al., 2014).

A systematic review raises concerns that although 13 out of the 19 reviewed studies demonstrated weight loss among MBI participants, it is unclear to what extent these weight loss changes resulted directly from mindfulness. These researchers suggested that future research is needed regarding contributing factors (e.g. biology and psychology) to the relationship between weight loss and mindfulness. (Olson & Emery 2014).

Another field that requires further research is why certain people have poorer inhibitory control than others (Hogenkamp et al. 2015).

A study of long-term weight loss in individuals post-Roux-en-Y Bypass bariatric surgery demonstrated that a significant number of people struggled with sustainable weight loss. These individuals were found to have less inhibitory control than participants who managed to sustain weight management following surgery, thus suggesting that cognitive behaviour therapies post-bariatric surgery may aid in sustaining weight management (Hogenkamp et al, 2015).

Conclusion

Although it is clear that further research is required into the role of mindful eating in weight loss, several studies have shown promising results. Whether MBIs can have a widespread impact on globesity is still to be seen.

Additional Resources


References

Authors

Portrait of Ausmed Editorial Team
Ausmed Editorial Team

Ausmed’s Editorial team is committed to providing high-quality and thoroughly researched content to our readers, free of any commercial bias or conflict of interest. All articles are developed in consultation with healthcare professionals and peer reviewed where necessary, undergoing a yearly review to ensure all healthcare information is kept up to date. See Educator Profile

Portrait of Madeline Gilkes
Madeline Gilkes

Madeline Gilkes, CNS, RN, is a Fellow of the Australasian Society of Lifestyle Medicine. She focused her master of healthcare leadership research project on health coaching for long-term weight loss in obese adults. In recent years, Madeline has found a passion for preventative nursing, transitioning from leadership roles (CNS Gerontology & Education, Clinical Facilitator) in hospital settings to primary healthcare nursing. Madeline’s vision is to implement lifestyle medicine to prevent and treat chronic conditions. Her brief research proposal for her PhD application involves Lifestyle Medicine for Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus. Madeline is working towards Credentialled Diabetes Educator (CDE) status and primarily works in the role of Head of Nursing. Madeline’s philosophy focuses on using humanistic management, adult learning theories/evidence and self-efficacy theories and interventions to promote positive learning environments. In addition to her Master of Healthcare Leadership, Madeline has a Graduate Certificate in Diabetes Education & Management, Graduate Certificate in Adult & Vocational Education, Graduate Certificate of Aged Care Nursing, and a Bachelor of Nursing. See Educator Profile