Mindfulness practices as part of Weight Watchers program

Smith, Deborah. “Exploring the effects of introducing short, manageable mindfulness practises to adults seeking to lose weight in a UK Weight Watchers meeting.”  Proceedings. Dissertation projects, MA in Positive Psychology, Buckinghamshire New University, UK. pp. 43-58.

From the Abstract: Mindfulness and mindful eating are becoming recognised as effective methods in helping people to achieve a healthy weight.  Previous studies have involved relatively lengthy introductions to the practises, sometimes expecting participants to practise the mindfulness meditations for forty-five minutes per day. 

However this study examines participants’ experiences using brief introductions to mindful eating, breathing meditation and loving kindness meditation.  Integrated within a regular weekly Weight Watchers meeting, over a six week period, a fifteen minute introduction was given; a ten minute explanation and five minutes practise.  Two, five or ten minute meditations were suggested for home practise. 

Seven people out of the twenty-five participants were chosen to participate in the focus group used for feedback on the experience.  The interview explored the participants’ experiences of the practises and thematic analysis was used to identify themes within the participants’ accounts.  

The main conclusions from this study are that overweight people seeking to lose weight experience multiple benefits from the brief introductions and mindfulness practises; i.e., reduced stress, increased self-compassion and a more positive relationship with food was developed.  Participants reported an ease of engagement and unanimously wanted to continue practicing mindfulness as part of their on-going weight loss programme and possibly beyond.

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Weight-loss and health-related behaviors (review & analysis)

Ruffault, A., et al. (2016). The effects of mindfulness training on weight-loss and health-related behaviours in adults with overweight and obesity: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Obesity Research & Clinical Practice. Summary.

  • Mindfulness training has been related to the adoption of healthier behaviours.
  • We conducted a meta-analysis of RCTs testing mindfulness training for weight loss.
  • Mindfulness decreases binge and impulsive eating and increases physical activity.
  • No effects of mindfulness training on weight loss in adults with excess weight.
  • Study design is a major source of heterogeneity in study effects.

Current findings on mindfulness, eating behaviours, and obesity

chozenEatingMantzios, M., & Wilson, J. C. (2015). Mindfulness, Eating Behaviours, and Obesity: A Review and Reflection on Current Findings. Current Obesity Reports, 1-6. Full text.

Abstract. Mindfulness and mindful eating have become popular in recent years. In this review, we first explore what mindfulness is in the context of psychological research, and why it offers promise for eating behaviours and weight loss. Second, we review the main empirical findings for weight loss in mindfulness-based intervention programmes. Third, contradictions in the findings are explored in more depth, and suggestions are made regarding why they may be occurring. Fourth, the benefits of adding self-compassion (and compassion) training to mindfulness practise to assist weight loss is discussed. Finally, the limitations of the research literature (and possible solutions) are explored.

Overall, it is concluded that while mindfulness meditations that specifically focus on eating may be extremely helpful in promoting better eating behaviours, and assist in weight regulation, work is still needed to make such interventions appeal to a wider audience.

Mindfulness and behavioral intervention for stress-eating

Corsica, J., et al. (2014). Development of a novel mindfulness and behavioral intervention for stress-eating: A comparative pilot study. Eating Behaviors. In-press. Abstract.

Stress-related eating is increasingly cited as a difficulty in managing healthy eating behaviors and weight. However few interventions have been designed to specifically target stress-related eating. In addition, the optimal target of such an intervention is unclear, as the target might be conceptualized as overall stress reduction or changing emotional eating-related thoughts and behaviors.

This pilot study compared the effects of three interventions targeting those components individually and in combination on stress-related eating, perceived stress, and weight loss to determine whether the two intervention components are effective alone or are more effective when combined. Fifty-three overweight participants (98% female) who reported elevated levels of stress and stress-eating and were at risk for obesity were randomly assigned to one of three six- week interventions: A modified mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) intervention, a cognitive behavioral stress-eating intervention (SEI), and a combined intervention that included all MBSR and SEI components.

All three interventions significantly reduced perceived stress and stress-eating, but the combination intervention resulted in greater reductions and also produced a moderate effect on short term weight loss. Benefits persisted at six week follow-up. The pattern of results preliminarily suggests that the combination intervention (MBSR + SEI) may yield promise in the treatment of stress-related eating.

Impact on weight management

Mantzios, M., & Giannou, K. (2014). Group vs. Single Mindfulness Meditation: Exploring Avoidance, Impulsivity, and Weight Management in Two Separate Mindfulness Meditation Settings. Applied Psychology: Health and Well‐Being. Abstract. Published online ahead of inclusion in an issue.

Recent research has identified that mindfulness meditation in group settings supports people who are trying to lose weight. The present research investigated mindfulness meditation in group and individual settings, and explored the potential impact on weight loss and other factors (i.e. mindfulness, impulsivity, and avoidance) that may assist or hinder weight loss.

Specifically, the hypotheses tested were that the group setting assisted dieters more than the individual setting by reducing weight, cognitive-behavioral avoidance, and impulsivity and by increasing mindfulness. Participants (n = 170) who were trying to lose weight were randomly assigned to practice meditation for 6 weeks within a group or independently. Measurements in mindfulness, cognitive-behavioral avoidance, impulsivity, and weight occurred twice (pre- and post-intervention).

Results indicated that participants in the group setting lost weight and lowered their levels of cognitive-behavioral avoidance, while impulsivity and mindfulness remained stable. On the other hand, participants in the individual condition lost less weight, while there was an increase in cognitive-behavioral avoidance and mindfulness scores, but a decrease in impulsivity.

Seeing that benefits and limitations observed in group settings are not replicated when people meditate alone, this study concluded that mindfulness meditation in individual settings needs to be used with caution, although there are some potential benefits that could aid future weight loss research.

Reduces negative relationship between impulsivity and weight loss

Mantzios, M., & Wilson, J. C. (2013). Moderating the negative relationship between impulsivity and weight loss through self-compassion. Appetite, 71, 481.

Abstract. Recent research suggested that self-compassion positively supports and explains mindfulness. One of the many benefits of mindfulness is assisting with impulse control, which in turn, supports people who want to regulate their weight. While such research shows promise, a major concern is that, occasionally, everyone fails to resist temptation. A way to potentially deal with such failure is by enhancing self-compassion (which includes mindfulness), and may propose a kinder approach to deal with failures in impulse control.

This study explored, through linear regressions and moderation analysis, whether (a) self-compassion positively explains weight loss, and (b) if self-compassion moderates the negative relationship between impulsivity and weight loss. University students (n=141); 66 males and 75 females), who expressed an interest to lose weight by responding to an advertisement, completed questionnaires in self-compassion and impulsivity. Also, height and weight were measured at baseline and after 5 weeks to record any actual weight differences.

Results indicated that the model of self-compassion and impulsivity significantly explained weight loss. Further, self-compassion significantly reduced the negative relationship between impulsivity and weight loss. The findings suggest that self-compassion may help people eat less and weaken the negative effect of impulsivity on weight loss. Noticeable limitations (i.e., the student sample, correlational design, and medium effect size) suggest that more research is required.

While these preliminary findings of self-compassion and weight regulation appear promising, it is a topic that is fairly new and should be explored further in future research, ideally by employing compassion-based interventions and in conjunction with mindfulness.

Mindfulness and self-compassion to assist weight loss

Mantzios, M., & Wilson, J. C. (2013). Making concrete construals mindful: A novel approach for developing mindfulness and self-compassion to assist weight loss. Psychology & Health, (just-accepted), 1-41.

Abstract. Research on the usefulness of mindfulness and self-compassion for dieting has focused on meditative practices. However, meditation can be difficult to maintain, especially while dieting. Thus, the present research attempted to induce mindfulness and self-compassion by using food diaries that required the participant to either focus on concrete (i.e. how they are eating) construals or abstract (i.e. why they are eating) construals.

The concrete construals were expected to increase mindfulness and self-compassion, as well as decrease avoidance and negative thoughts (which would further aid the development of mindfulness and self-compassion). Study 1 found that mindfulness and self-compassion mediated the inverse relationship of avoidance and negative thoughts with weight loss. Study 2 showed that concrete construal diaries increased mindfulness and self-compassion, decreased avoidance and negative thoughts, and supported weight loss significantly more than the abstract construal diaries.

Study 3, then, compared the concrete construal diaries with a mindful self-compassionate meditation programme. There was no difference in weight loss at the end of the intervention, but at a three-month follow-up, the diaries performed better at weight maintenance. Thus, the concrete construal diaries may promote mindfulness and self-compassion and potentially promote long-term weight loss.