Marc-Andre Cornier, MD, professor and director of the Division of Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolic Diseases at the Medical University of South Carolina, explains how the mechanisms of mindfulness may help those with obesity lose weight.
Basically any behavioral modification intervention for any condition involves a mindfulness component, said Marc-Andre Cornier, MD, endocrinologist, professor, and director of the Division of Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolic Diseases at the Medical University of South Carolina.
How might mindfulness-based interventions prevent worsening of stress eating among at-risk individuals?
Yeah, so mindfulness interventions have gotten a lot of press recently, mindfulness is a hot topic. And if you look at just about every behavioral modification intervention out there for any condition, including weight loss, you'll see that there is a mindfulness component to just about all of those. And so how does mindfulness potentially help with weight loss? It's probably at different levels.
One is mindfulness helps us appreciate our own signals from our body better. We're better to understand our bodies when we're more mindful about ourselves. And we and others have shown in other studies, that individuals who are prone to weight gain or have obesity often have a reduced ability to understand signals relating to weight regulation. So for example, it's been shown over and over again that people with obesity underestimate their calorie intake by 30% on average. We overfed people, and people prone to weight gain, basically showed no changes in their response to appetite, to food signals, despite overfeeding them by 30% to 50% calories. So it suggests that we need to have interventions that help individuals understand their own bodies better, and mindfulness can help with that. So that's one way.
Mindfulness interventions can also impact eating related behaviors like reward. And in that study that you mentioned this was a follow-up study, that was a year and a half of follow-up. The original study went out 6 months, and in that study, we found reduction in reward-based eating behaviors. And so certainly mindfulness can help with that as well.
And then finally, it can help reduce stress. We know that stress can lead to a whole series of reactions and increase in stress hormones, and all of these can enhance food intake, and reduce the ability to burn calories. So reducing stress can also be quite beneficial with that setting. So I think mindfulness has potential multiple mechanisms in terms of how it may work. Now, having said that, there are not great data out there saying that a mindfulness intervention helps people lose weight. There are small studies. They're difficult to do, they're difficult to control. But certainly as part of a bigger program, it's a very important part of those programs.