Stress Reduction and Mindful Eating Curb Weight Gain

mindful eatingMastering stress-reduction and mindful eating techniques can help prevent weight gain in women, even without dieting, found a new study published in the Journal of Obesity. The 47 overweight or obese women who participated in the study were not on calorie-restricted diets, but rather were randomly assigned to one of two groups–either a mindfulness training or control group. The women were all chronically stressed. For nine weeks, the women in the mindfulness training group attended a weekly 2 1/2 hour session, focusing on techniques to reduce stress, as well as how to be more aware of their eating by recognizing bodily sensations such as hunger, fullness and taste satisfaction.  They were asked to meditate 30 minutes daily and to practice mindful eating throughout the day.  During the sixth week they attended an intensive seven-hour, silent meditation retreat. To track stress, researchers administered a scientifically tested survey before and after the 9 week study and measured changes in levels of cortisol (a stress hormone), and changes in the amount of deep abdominal fat and body weight.

The study found that in the treatment group, there was an association between changes in body awareness, chronic stress, cortisol secretion and abdominal fat. The women with the best improvement in listening to their bodies’ cues, or greater reductions in stress or cortisol, had the highest reductions in deep abdominal fat. This type of belly fat is more dangerous than the fat beneath the skin and is associated with an elevated risk for developing heart disease or diabetes. Obese women who participated in the mindfulness training had significant reductions in cortisol after awakening and also maintained their total body weight, compared to the obese women in the control group who experienced stable cortisol levels and continued to put on weight. The study authors point out that this study is preliminary and larger studies need to be done to further investigate the relationship. They concluded that the purpose of the treatment is to “cultivate people’s ability to pay attention to their sensations of hunger, fullness and taste satisfaction as a guide for limiting how much they eat.” The goal was to reduce eating in response to emotions or external cues that typically drive overeating behavior.

“This article demonstrates developing techniques for reducing stress can prevent patients from gaining weight”, said Dr. Toby Broussard, expert weight loss surgeon in Oklahoma. “Stress eating is one reason why losing or maintaining weight is very difficult for some patients.  This study confirms what we actually see in our practice, that is, patients that cope well with stress tend to be more successful after weight loss surgery,” Dr. Broussard concluded.

Additional Reading

Deep belly fat can be difficult to get rid of, but a study found that increased consumption of soluble fiber, which is found in beans, oats, apples and peas, as well as moderate exercise, can decrease belly fat. You can read about the study’s findings here.

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