Friday, December 16, 2011


Recent research at UC San Francisco indicates that meditation could help people to control their dietary habits and thereby lose weight.  Although this particular research study is small-scale, its findings are consistent with other studies of mindfulness.

The researchers took a randomized group of 47 overweight women – albeit a small test group – and divided them into two groups. Each group received training on the basics of diet and exercise, but no diets were prescribed to either group.Move up Move down  The experimental group received training in ‘mindful eating’ and meditation in weekly sessions. In the mindful eating training, the women were trained to experience the moment-by-moment sensory experience of eating. They also meditated for 30 minutes each day.

The goal of the experiment was two-fold – to use mindful eating to help control cravings and overeating, and to use meditation as a stress relief to prevent ‘comfort eating.’ The preliminary results showed that they were successful. The women in the control group gained weight, while those in the control group maintained their weight and showed significant reductions in their cortisol levels (high cortisol levels are a side effect of stress).

‘You’re training the mind to notice, but to not automatically react based on habitual patterns - to not reach for a candy bar in response to feeling anger, for example,’ says UC San Francisco researcher Dr Jennifer Daubenmier (pictured left).  ‘If you can first recognize what you are feeling before you act, you have a greater chance of making a wiser decision.’

The UC San Francisco findings are certainly consistent with numerous brain studies showing that mindfulness brings about changes in brain areas responsible for body sensations, especially body sensations related to hunger and craving. The changes occur in the brain area called the ‘insula.’ (Interestingly, it has been shown that 'damage' to that part of the brain disrupts addiction to cigarette smoking.)

It should be mentioned that the difference in the weight changes reported in the UC San Francisco study only applied to the women in the study who were classified as ‘obese’ by their BMI. Overall, there wasn’t a statistically significant difference between the control group and the experimental group when it came to weight. However, the stress levels were different, which is not at all surprising. That also is consistent with many other studies on the effects of mindfulness.

Finally, here is what I think is a very helpful video (courtesy YouTube) on mindful eating – full of practical hints and advice:


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