Emotion regulation and mental habit in mindful eating

Fisher, Naomi R., et al. “Dispositional mindfulness and reward motivated eating: The role of emotion regulation and mental habit.” Appetite, published online 21 Jul 2017.

From the Abstract.  Evidence regarding the effectiveness of mindfulness based interventions (MBIs) for eating disorders, weight management and food craving is emerging and further studies are required to understand the underlying mechanisms of MBIs in these domains.

The current study was designed to establish the role of specific mechanisms underlying the putative relationship between mindfulness and reward motivated eating. We predicted that mindfulness would be negatively related to features of reward motivated eating and that this association would be mediated by emotion regulation and habitual negative self-thinking.

A cross-sectional survey measuring uncontrolled and emotional eating, mindfulness, emotion regulation and habitual negative self-thinking was completed by female and male meditators and non-meditators (N = 632). Lower levels of dispositional mindfulness were associated with difficulties in emotion regulation, habitual negative self-thinking and both emotional and uncontrolled eating.

Difficulties in emotion regulation significantly mediated the mindfulness-uncontrolled eating relationship. Habitual negative self-thinking significantly mediated the mindfulness-emotional eating relationship. Participants with meditation experience reported greater levels of dispositional mindfulness, fewer difficulties with emotion regulation and habitual negative self-thinking and reduced uncontrolled eating tendencies, compared to non-meditators.

The findings suggest that MBIs designed to change reward motivated eating and weight control should focus on emotion regulation and mental habits as underlying mechanisms.

Loving-kindness meditation for symptoms of depression

Hofmann, S.G. at al. (2015). Loving-Kindness Meditation to Target Affect in Mood Disorders: A Proof-of-Concept Study. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, Article ID 269126, doi:10.1155/2015/269126. Full text.

Conventional treatments for mood disorders primarily focus on reducing negative affect, but little on enhancing positive affect. Loving-kindness meditation (LKM) is a traditional meditation practice directly oriented toward enhancing unconditional and positive emotional states of kindness towards oneself and others.

We report here two independent and uncontrolled studies carried out at different centers, one in Boston, USA (n = 10), and one in Frankfurt, Germany (n = 8), to examine the potential therapeutic utility of a brief LKM group intervention for symptoms of dysthymia and depression.

Results at both centers suggest that LKM was associated with large-sized effects on self-reported symptoms of depression , negative affect, and positive affect. Large effects were also found for clinician-reported changes in depression, rumination and specific positive emotions, and moderate effects for changes in adaptive emotion regulation strategies. The qualitative data analyses provide additional support for the potential clinical utility of the intervention.

How does loving-kindness meditation alter brain and body?

Mascaro, J. S., Darcher, A., Negi, L. T., & Raison, C. (2015). The neural mediators of kindness-based meditation: a theoretical model. Frontiers in Psychology, 6, 109. To access full text, click here, then open PDF.

brain-budAbstract. Although kindness-based contemplative practices are increasingly employed by clinicians and cognitive researchers to enhance prosocial emotions, social cognitive skills, and well-being, and as a tool to understand the basic workings of the social mind, we lack a coherent theoretical model with which to test the mechanisms by which kindness-based meditation may alter the brain and body.

Here we link contemplative accounts of compassion and lovingkindness practices with research from social cognitive neuroscience and social psychology to generate predictions about how diverse practices may alter brain structure and function and related aspects of social cognition.

Contingent on the nuances of the practice, kindness-based meditation may enhance the neural systems related to faster and more basic perceptual or motor simulation processes, simulation of another’s affective body state, slower and higher-level perspective-taking, modulatory processes such as emotion regulation and self/other discrimination, and combinations thereof.

This theoretical model will be discussed alongside bestpractices for testing such a model and potential implications and applications of future work.

Mindfulness training to improve cognitive control in older adults (review)

Prakash, R. S., et al. (2014). Mindfulness and the aging brain: A proposed paradigm shift. Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience, 6, 120. Full text.

Abstract. There has been a proliferation of cognitive training studies investigating the efficacy of various cognitive training paradigms as well as strategies for improving cognitive control in the elderly. While some have found support for the transfer of training, the majority of training studies show modest to no transfer effects. When transfer effects have been observed, the mechanisms contributing to enhanced functioning have been difficult to dissociate.

In this review, we provide a theoretical rationale for the study of mindfulness in older adults as a particular type of training program designed to improve cognitive control by capitalizing on older adults’ acquired behavioral orientation toward higher socioemotional goals. Given the synergistic relationship between emotional and cognitive control processes, the paradoxical divergence in older adults’ functional trajectory in these respective domains, and the harmonious interplay of cognitive and emotional control embedded in the practice of mindfulness, we propose mindfulness training as an opportunistic approach to cultivating cognitive benefits in older adults.

The study of mindfulness within aging, we argue, capitalizes on a fundamental finding of the socioemotional aging literature, namely the preferential change in motivational goals of older adults from ones involving future-oriented wants and desires to present-focused emotion regulation and gratification.

Preventing risky behavior in adolescents

Broderick, P. C., & Jennings, P. A. (2012). Mindfulness for adolescents: A promising approach to supporting emotion regulation and preventing risky behavior. New directions for youth development, 2012(136), 111-126. Access to Full Text via researchgate.net

Abstract. This article reviews the contextual and neuropsychological challenges of the adolescent period with particular attention to the role that universal prevention can play in moderating the harmful effects of stress. The centrality of emotion regulation skills to long-term health and wellness suggests their importance in prevention and intervention efforts for youth.

Mindfulness has been shown to be an effective means of reducing stress and improving emotion balance in research with adults, although research on mindfulness with adolescents is limited. The authors present available data and describe one potentially effective program for adolescent mindfulness: Learning to BREATHE.

Neurobiological effects of meditation and mindfulness

Esch, T. (2014). The Neurobiology of Meditation and Mindfulness. In Meditation–Neuroscientific Approaches and Philosophical Implications (pp. 153-173). Springer International Publishing. Summary of book chapter

Neurobiological effects of meditation and mindfulness can be detected in the brain as functional and also structural alterations in grey and white matter, particularly in areas related to attention and memory, interoception and sensory processing, or self- and auto-regulation (including control of stress and emotions). On the molecular level, dopamine and melatonin are found to increase, serotonin activity is modulated, and cortisol as well as norepinephrine have been proven to decrease.

These findings are reflected in functional and structural changes documented by imaging techniques such as fMRI or EEG. They may be relevant for medicine and health care, especially with reference to therapeutic strategies for behavior change and life-style modification, or in association with stress regulation and the treatment of addiction. Neuronal mechanisms of mindfulness can be divided into four areas: attention regulation, body awareness, emotion regulation and self-perception.

See also: How meditation can reshape our brain. TED talk by neuroscientist Sara Lazar. Her brain scans show meditation can actually change the size of key regions of our brain, improving our memory and making us more empathetic, compassionate, and resilient under stress.

How mindfulness works (in the brain)

Teper, R., Segal, Z. V., & Inzlicht, M. (2013). Inside the Mindful Mind: How Mindfulness Enhances Emotion Regulation Through Improvements in Executive Control. Current directions in psychological science. XX(X), 1-6. Full text.

Abstract: Although the psychological benefits of mindfulness training on emotion regulation are well-documented, the precise mechanisms underlying these effects remain unclear. In the present account, we propose a new linkage between mindfulness and improved emotion regulation—one that highlights the role played by executive control. Specifically, we suggest that the present-moment awareness and nonjudgmental acceptance that is cultivated by mindfulness training is crucial in promoting executive control because it increases sensitivity to affective cues in the experiential field.

This refined attunement and openness to subtle changes in affective states fosters executive control because it improves response to incipient affective cues that help signal the need for control. This, in turn, enhances emotion regulation. In presenting our model, we discuss how new findings in executive control can improve our understanding of how mindfulness increases the capacity for effective emotion regulation.