Eating mindfully without caloric cost

Arch, Joanna J., et al. “Enjoying food without caloric cost: The impact of brief mindfulness on laboratory eating outcomes.” Behaviour Research and Therapy (2016). Abstract.


  • We assessed the sensory and behavioral benefits of tasting food mindfully.
  • Across two lab studies, brief mindfulness enhanced enjoyment of tasting food.
  • Brief mindfulness led to lower caloric consumption of ‘junk’ foods.
  • Greater tasting enjoyment mediated the impact of mindfulness on lower consumption.
  • These studies suggest potential benefits of mindfulness in the context of eating.

Objective. Mindfulness-based interventions have been increasingly applied to treat eating-related problems ranging from obesity to eating disorders. Yet few studies have empirically examined the mechanisms of a mindful approach to eating. The current studies examine the potential of brief mindfulness instructions to enhance the psychological and behavioral dimensions of eating.

Methods. In three experiments (total N = 319), we examined whether brief mindfulness instructions would enhance the positive sensory experience involved in tasting food as well as healthy eating behaviors.

Results. Relative to distraction control instructions, the first two studies demonstrated that brief mindfulness instructions increased the enjoyment of a commonly pleasurable food (chocolate; Study 1), and a food with generally more mixed associations (raisins; Study 2). The third study replicated and extended these findings to show that brief mindfulness instructions also led to lower calorie consumption of unhealthy food relative to distracted or no-instruction control conditions, an effect mediated by greater eating enjoyment.

Conclusions. Findings demonstrated the power of brief mindfulness instructions to positively impact both health-relevant behavior and sensory experience associated with eating food. Implications for both theory and clinical applications of mindfulness are discussed.

Comparing mindfulness meditation and guided imagery in patients with acute depression

Costa, A., & Barnhofer, T. (2015). Turning Towards or Turning Away: A Comparison of Mindfulness Meditation and Guided Imagery Relaxation in Patients with Acute Depression. Behavioural and cognitive psychotherapy, 1-10. Abstract.

Background: Disengaging from maladaptive thinking is an important imperative in the treatment of depression. Mindfulness training is aimed at helping patients acquire relevant skills for this purpose. It remains unclear, however, whether this practice is helpful when patients are acutely depressed.

Aims: In order to investigate effects of mindfulness on symptoms and self-regulatory capacities in this group, the current study compared a brief training in mindfulness (n = 19) to guided imagery relaxation (n = 18).

Method: Participants were introduced to the respective techniques in a single session, and practised daily over one week. Self-reported severity of symptoms, difficulties in emotion-regulation, attentional control, the ability to decentre, and mindfulness were assessed pre and post-intervention, and at a one-week follow-up.

Results: Symptoms of depression significantly decreased and self-regulatory functioning significantly increased in both groups, with changes being maintained during follow-up. When controlling for change in depressive symptoms, results showed significantly higher improvements in emotion regulation at follow-up in the mindfulness group. The ability to decentre predicted changes in symptoms from pre to post-intervention, while mindfulness skills predicted changes in symptoms during the maintenance phase.

Conclusions: The findings suggest that both practices can help to instigate reductions in symptoms and enhance self-regulatory functioning in depression. However, in order to improve emotion regulation above levels explained by reductions in symptoms more intentional mental training seems necessary. Furthermore, while the ability to disengage from negative patterns of thinking seems crucial for initial reduction of symptoms, maintenance of gains might require broader skills in mindfulness.

Self-compassion and body dissatisfaction in women

Albertson, E. R., Neff, K. D., & Dill-Shackleford, K. E. (2014). Self-Compassion and Body Dissatisfaction in Women: A Randomized Controlled Trial of a Brief Meditation Intervention. Mindfulness, 1-11. Abstract.

Excerpts: Body dissatisfaction is a major source of suffering among women of all ages. One potential factor that could mitigate body dissatisfaction is self-compassion, a construct that is garnering increasing research attention due to its strong association with psychological health.

This study investigated whether a brief 3-week period of self-compassion meditation training would improve body satisfaction in a multigenerational group of women. Participants were randomized either to the meditation intervention group or to a waitlist control group.

Results suggested that compared to the control group, intervention participants experienced significantly greater reductions in body dissatisfaction, body shame, and contingent self-worth based on appearance, as well as greater gains in self-compassion and body appreciation. All improvements were maintained when assessed 3 months later. Self-compassion meditation may be a useful and cost-effective means of improving body image in adult women.

Loving-kindess practice may improve longevity

Hoge, E. A., et al. (2013). Loving-Kindness Meditation Practice Associated with Longer Telomeres in Women. Brain, Behavior, and Immunity. Published online.

From the Abstract: Relatively short telomere length may serve as a marker of accelerated aging, and shorter telomeres have been linked to chronic stress. Specific lifestyle behaviors that can mitigate the effects of stress might be associated with longer telomere lengths. Previous research suggests a link between behaviors that focus on the well-being of others, such as volunteering and caregiving, and overall health and longevity. We examined relative telomere length in a group of individuals experienced in Loving-Kindness Meditation (LKM), a practice derived from the Buddhist tradition which utilizes a focus on unselfish kindness and warmth towards all people, and control participants who had done no meditation.

Blood was collected by venipuncture, and Genomic DNA was extracted from peripheral blood leukocytes. Quantitative real time PCR was used to measure relative telomere length (RTL) in fifteen LKM practitioners and 22 control participants. There were no significant differences in age, gender, race, education, or exposure to trauma, but the control group had a higher mean body mass index (BMI) and lower rates of past depression. The LKM practitioners had longer RTL than controls at the trend level (p=.083); among women, the LKM practitioners had significantly longer RTL than controls, (p=.007), which remained significant even after controlling for BMI and past depression.

Although limited by small sample size, these results offer the intriguing possibility that LKM practice, especially in women, might alter RTL, a biomarker associated with longevity.

Online mindfulness curriculum

Reid, D.T. (2013). Teaching mindfulness to occupational therapy students: Pilot evaluation of an online curriculum. [Abstract]. Canadian Journal of Occupational Therapy, 80(1), 142-48.

Background. How mindfulness can be learned by occupational therapy students to manage their own self-care processes has not been fully examined as yet.

Purpose. This article describes an online curriculum approach for teaching a general introductory mindfulness course and examines outcomes with master’s entry-level occupational therapy students.

Method. Fifteen students participated in an 8-week online mindfulness curriculum and completed a pre- and post-training survey. The Mindfulness Attention and Awareness Scale (MAAS) was used to measure mindfulness. Demographic, MAAS-scored mindfulness, and clinical utility data were collected.

Results. Results showed a statistically significant change in MAAS mindfulness scores from the program start to end. Informal practice exercises and guided meditations were perceived by participants as being more helpful ways for developing an understanding and approach to mindfulness than were readings about mindfulness.

Implications. This study suggests that mindfulness can be taught using an online approach.

Brief chair yoga or guided meditation improve markers of stress

Melville, G. W., et al. (2012). Fifteen Minutes of Chair-Based Yoga Postures or Guided Meditation Performed in the Office Can Elicit a Relaxation Response. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. (Abstract]. Published online. Read full text.

This study compared acute (15 min) yoga posture and guided meditation practice, performed seated in a typical office workspace, on physiological and psychological markers of stress. Twenty participants completed three conditions: yoga, meditation, and control (i.e., usual work) separated by ≥24 hrs. Yoga and meditation significantly reduced perceived stress versus control, and this effect was maintained postintervention. Yoga increased heart rate while meditation reduced heart rate versus control.

Respiration rate was reduced during yoga and meditation versus control. Domains of heart rate variability were significantly reduced during control versus yoga and meditation. Systolic and diastolic blood pressure were reduced secondary to meditation versus control only. Physiological adaptations generally regressed toward baseline postintervention.

In conclusion, yoga postures or meditation performed in the office can acutely improve several physiological and psychological markers of stress. These effects may be at least partially mediated by reduced respiration rate.