A UK study has found that mindfulness could help people who are obese, lose weight. The scientists, based at Warwick University, Coventry ran a small study and found statistically significant weightloss among a group of people who were already attending an obesity clinic. The results were published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, which is a peer-reviewed journal. The article is paid for, but the abstract is available to read online. The scientists believe that this is the first study of its type to be run in the UK.
The World Health Organisation statistics suggest that obesity has almost tripled since 1975. 61% of adults in England were overweight or obese (have a BMI of 25 or over) in 2016, according to the Government’s own figures. Ages 45 and upwards are most likely to be overweight or obese. Obesity has been linked to a higher risk of developing a number of conditions, including diabetes, heart disease, some cancers, high blood pressure and stroke.
Mindfulness techniques are a form of meditation which enable people to live ‘in the moment’. People are encouraged to avoid unconscious or mechanical activity, to tune in to their surroundings and become aware of their inner feelings. It does not involve any particular belief system and does not need to become ritualistic, for example, being performed at the same time each day. It requires mental discipline, wakefulness and intention and asks the person performing it to adopt a non-judgemental attitude towards thoughts and emotions, looking at them objectively and not reacting to them. It was originally developed to help patients manage chronic pain and stress-related disorders.
The researchers wanted to see whether applying mindfulness techniques could help people manage unhealthy eating habits. Former studies had been run in other countries. 53 people were recruited, who were attending a dedicated weight management program at the University Hospital in Coventry and the Warwickshire NHS Trust. The group were split into two: a control group or waiting list and the group chosen to take part in mindfulness training sessions. 33 people took part in at least 3 out of the 4 sessions on offer. The focus was on practising mindfulness while eating. The study ran for 6 months. The participants were asked to self-report on eating behaviour and body weight as a baseline.
The participants who took part in the mindfulness sessions lost around 3 kg or 6.6lbs while some who had only attended 1 or 2 sessions lost around 0.9 kg or 2lbs. The 20 people in the control group attended the same weight management sessions, but were not offered mindfulness sessions lost around 0.21kg which is roughly three-quarters of a pound. Those people who took part in the mindfulness sessions also reported that they experienced improved self-esteem and confidence in their ability to manage their body weight.
The researchers hope that their results can be replicated in a wider study and that the approach could be scaled up to help a wider population. They hoped that similar courses could be held within a primary care setting or that the information could be used to develop digital tools to aid weightloss.
Hanson, P., et al., Application of Mindfulness in a Tier 3 Obesity Service Improves Eating Behaviour and Facilitates Successful Weight Loss, The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, Volume 104, Issue 3, 1 March 2019, Pages 793–800
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