Posted 04.15.2016 | by AMRA

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Can being mindfully aware heighten the pleasure of eating? Arch et al. [Behavior Research and Therapy] addressed this question in a series of studies while also exploring whether mindfulness promotes more healthful food choices.

In the first study, 81 male and female undergraduates were randomly assigned to either a mindful eating or a distracted eating condition. Participants in the mindful eating condition were instructed to eat a series of five chocolate chips while focusing on their sensory experience. Participants in the distraction condition ate their chocolate chips while searching for hidden words in a find-a-word puzzle. Mindful participants rated their chocolate chips as significantly more enjoyable (Cohen’s d = 0.51) and had a marginally significantly greater desire to eat another chocolate chip (d = 0.38) than distracted eaters.

In the second experiment with 136 male and female undergraduates, the researchers repeated the first study using raisins instead of chocolate chips. Mindful eaters showed a marginally significant tendency to enjoy the raisins more (d = 0.27) and a significantly higher desire to eat another raisin (d = 0.39) than distracted eaters.

The researchers wanted to know if people who ate mindfully ended up consuming more calories because they enjoyed eating more, or fewer calories because their improved attention led to greater behavioral control. In the third study, 102 male and female undergraduates again ate raisins, but were randomly assigned to either a mindful eating group that was instructed to focus on their sensory experience, a distracted eating group that was told to focus on find-a-word puzzles while eating, or a “no special instructions” control. The mindful eaters again rated the raisins as significantly more enjoyable and were significantly more likely to desire another raisin than either of the control groups.

Following eating the raisins, participants were led into a room with healthful (almonds, carrot sticks) and “unhealthful” (candy, pretzels, potato chips) snacks and told to avail themselves of the food choices. Following five minutes during which participants could eat as they liked (free-eating), they were then asked to sample as much as they wanted of each of the snacks and rate them on taste while under the same mindful or distraction conditions they were under while eating the raisins. The researchers measured their caloric intake under both the free-eating and taste-rating conditions.

There were no group differences in caloric intake during free-eating. During taste-rating, mindful eaters consumed significantly fewer “junk food” and total overall calories than controls—54 fewer calories than the distracted eaters. Eaters in the distraction condition consumed 48% more calories during taste-rating than during free-eating, presumably because being distracted on the find-a-word puzzle while taste-rating interfered with regulating food intake.

Together, these studies suggest that an undistracted sensory focus can increase eating pleasure and even help people regulate the type and amount of food consumed. The study is limited by its assumption that the instruction to “focus on sensation” induces a state of “mindfulness” similar to that obtained by meditative practice.

Reference:

Arch, J. J., Brown, K. W., Goodman, R. J., Della Porta, M. D., Kiken, L. G., & Tillman, S. (2016). Enjoying food without caloric cost: The impact of brief mindfulness on laboratory eating outcomes. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 79, 23-34.

[Link to abstract]