One of the core mindfulness skills we teach on our programme is paying attention while doing everyday tasks. This includes eating.
If we are not being mindfulness, many of us eat without tasting or experiencing our food — even a favourite meal may be wolfed down in this way because our minds are elsewhere.
Obviously that means we miss out on one of life’s great pleasures, but there may be another pragmatic reason to eat mindfully too. Mindfulness may help you to have a healthier relationship with food and exercise.
A recent study conducted with adolescents found this to be the case. The study, by Dr. Vernon A. Barnes, a physiologist at the Medical College of Georgia at Augusta University found that mindful eating helped participants to eat better, exercise more and curb weight gain.
The study examined the impact of mindfulness on diet, exercise and eating habits of adolescents. A control group continued their regular school health classes and the study group underwent 12 weeks of mindfulness, starting with simple techniques such as breathing awareness meditation. The researchers also used chocolate to increase awareness of taste and taste satiety, and explained how emotions can trigger overeating. The students also learnt mindful movement and walking meditation, as well as used pedometers to measure their levels of activity.
Most of the adolescents in both groups were overweight and had bad eating habits, including binge eating. At the end of the 12 week period, the researchers looked at what the students ate, how often they exercised and whether or not they binged.
Barnes found that adolescents undergoing the mindfulness programme ate better and exercised more. Physical activity for participants increased compared with the control group, who actually exercised even less than usual over the study period by about half a day per week. Over six months, the mindfulness participants went from 2.9 to 3.6 to 4.3 days of activity each week. The control group dropped from nearly three days to about two days of activity per week.
The adolescents learning mindfulness lost weight compared with their peers in the control group, who continued to gain weight. They ate less fat and fewer calories, although many continued to binge eat.
Further research is needed to more fully examine the impact of mindfulness on eating habits, but this research is certainly promising.
“This gives us a safe, inexpensive intervention that could be translated into a real-world program for overweight kids,” said Dr Barnes. “If you can make a practice of keeping the awareness with you at every meal, this could benefit you throughout your life.”