A mindful approach can alter your eating habits and help you lose weight, researchers say.
Changing your eating habits may start with adopting a different mindset, according to a new study.
If you’ve made a resolution to lose weight this year, you’ve probably started hitting the gym and cutting calories.
But here’s something else that might help you hit your goals: mindful eating.
New research has found that mindfulness training may play an important role in helping people see lower numbers on their scale.
In a study published in Endocrine Society’s Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism last month, researchers from the United Kingdom offered mindfulness training to 53 participants in an obesity management program.
They found that the 33 people who completed the mindfulness sessions dropped, on average, about 6 pounds more than those who chose not to take the course.
In the six months following the class, participants who completed at least three of the four mindfulness sessions lost an average of 6.6 pounds while those who attended two or fewer classes shed about 2 pounds.
The findings may show an important connection between mindset and weight loss.
“This is something people need to hear, especially as they’re working on their New Year’s resolutions and falling back on the same things they’ve always done that haven’t worked,” said Brad Crump, DC, health services manager at Red Mountain Resort, which offers weight-loss retreats with a focus on mindfulness. “When it comes to losing weight, there’s so much focus on calories in, calories out and exercise, but another big component is our relationship with food.”
Mindfulness is a practice that helps people develop “awareness and acceptance” of challenging experiences, along with more control over their reactions and behaviors.
While not exclusively used for weight loss, mindfulness can curb behaviors that may contribute to higher numbers on the scale, such as emotional eating, feelings of defeat, and self-criticism.
Changing your mindset around food is critical to maintaining weight loss for the long term, said Gary Foster, PhD, a psychologist, obesity investigator, and chief scientific officer at WW (formerly Weight Watchers).
He says the wellness and weight management program puts a heavy emphasis on helping participants develop a healthy mindset.
“For many people, dieting is a dramatic departure from everyday life that’s onerous and difficult — like going to dieters’ prison. It doesn’t take a psychologist to figure out that when your sentence is over, things will go back to the way they were,” Foster told Healthline.
“But if you start with both feet in your current life and think about how you can restructure it and organize your way of being and thinking, it will give you a better path to long-term success,” he added.
Participants in the most recent study learned mindfulness in a series of group sessions led by dietitians and psychologists.
Learning the practice with other people seemed to create a sense of community that may have helped participants achieve greater success with their weight-loss goals, researchers said.
Interacting with others created “a shared social identity” that helped boost self-confidence and weight management, according to the report.
“There’s a psychological principle called homogeneity of purpose, which shows that if you get people unified around a single purpose, the commonality drives outcomes,” said Foster. “There’s a ripple effect, too — one study showed that when people joined Weight Watchers, other people in their household lost weight, even if they didn’t participate.”
While the latest study suggests that mindfulness could be an effective component of weight loss, previous research has shown mixed results.
A 2015 systematic review of 19 other reports determined that the degree to which mindfulness was responsible for significant weight loss was unclear.
On the other hand, a 2014 review of 21 other reports found that mindfulness proved to be en effective tool at changing unhealthy eating behaviors, such as binge eating and emotional eating.
Authors of last month’s report say that further studies are needed to advance the topic.
Regardless of the relationship it has to weight loss, mindfulness can improve your health in a variety of ways.
“There’s a preponderance of evidence that mindfulness helps all kinds of things, like vitality, stress relief, and confidence,” said Foster. “It’s consistent in the wellness journey and it pays off both on and off the scale.”
Want to learn how to practice mindfulness?
Foster said the best way to learn is through a structured program, such as the three-minute introduction to meditation in the WW app, or through workshops and classes.
Crump, on the other hand, told Healthline that people can learn and practice mindfulness on their own at home.
He recommends reading Dr. Michelle May’s book, “Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat,” and pausing before any meal to check in with your mind and body.
“When you’re considering eating, ask yourself, ‘Am I hungry?’, ‘What are the best options available to me?’, and ‘What will leave me satisfied?’. Taking away the judgment on the self and food can help people find their self-worth and live a happier life,” he said.