Posted 03.18.2016 | by AMRA

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Adults who lose weight in diet-and-exercise lifestyle change programs usually regain weight after the program. This is often blamed on the ready availability of good tasting high calorie food along with stress and individual tendencies toward reward-driven eating. Reward-driven eating is eating that meets emotional rather than nutritional needs; it’s often accompanied by food cravings and preoccupations, poor control of eating despite motivation to lose weight, and insensitivity to sensations of fullness.

Mason et al. [Appetite] investigated the degree to which reward-driven eating and stress impacted weight loss in 158 obese participants (82% female, 59% White, average age = 47, average BMI = 35) who were randomly assigned to one of two diet and exercise interventions — one of which included mindfulness training and the other of which included progressive muscle relaxation and cognitive-behavioral skill training.

Both interventions met in groups for 17 sessions spaced over the course of 6 months. Both interventions used the same diet-and-exercise regimen: participants reduced their daily intake by 500 calories, engaged in structured aerobic and anaerobic exercise, and increased their daily general activity.

The mindfulness intervention taught sitting, walking, and lovingkindness meditation and mindful yoga, and promoted awareness of hunger, fullness, taste, food cravings, and eating triggers. The comparison intervention taught progressive muscle relaxation and cognitive-behavioral skills as well as provided additional didactic instruction on nutrition and exercise.

Participants were weighed and assessed on self-reported reward-driven eating and perceived stress at baseline and 6, 12, and 18 months after baseline. The mindfulness group lost approximately 4.4 pounds more than the comparison group, but that difference didn’t reach statistical significance.

The mindfulness group experienced a significantly greater decrease in reward-driven eating than the comparison group, a decrease that was significantly associated with weight loss at 12 months but not at 18 months. This loss of association between changes in reward-driven eating and weight loss at 18 months wasn’t due to either weight regain or increases in reward-driven eating, suggesting that some new, unidentified variables became more important in maintaining weight loss between 12 and 18 months. Changes in perceived stress didn’t impact weight loss, perhaps because the beginning stress level of this sample was already below the national average.

Findings from this study show that a mindfulness-based diet-and-exercise intervention reduced reward-driven eating more than a diet-and-exercise intervention with progressive muscle relaxation and cognitive-behavioral skills. Mindfulness may add value to weight loss programs by helping clients cope with food cravings, regulate emotions, and attend to bodily sensations that indicate genuine hunger and satiety.

Reference:

Mason, A. E., Epel, E. S., Aschbacher, K., Lustig, R. H., Acree, M., Kristeller, J., . . . Bacchetti, P. (2016). Reduced reward-driven eating accounts for the impact of a mindfulness-based diet and exercise intervention on weight loss: Data from the SHINE randomized controlled trial. Appetite.

[Link to abstract]