A small U.K. study shows that individuals who participated in mindfulness training as part of an intensive weight management program lost more weight in six months than others in the program who did not attend mindfulness courses.

Mindfulness is a mind-body practice in which people learn to achieve heightened awareness of their current state of mind and immediate environment in the present moment. The study, from researchers at the University of Warwick and the Warwickshire Institute for the Study of Diabetes Endocrinology and Metabolism at University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire NHS Trust, looked at how this practice could be used to help obese individuals.

According to the World Health Organization, obesity has nearly tripled worldwide since 1975. As of 2016, more than 1.9 billion adults worldwide met the criteria for overweight or obesity.

“This research is significant as we have shown that problematic eating behavior can be improved with mindfulness application,” said the study’s first author, Petra Hanson, M.B.C.H.B., B.Sc., M.R.C.P., A.F.H.E.A., a research fellow and Ph.D. student at the Warwickshire Institute for the Study of Diabetes Endocrinology and Metabolism. “We are the first center in the United Kingdom that created a structured multidisciplinary course incorporating mindfulness and assessed its effectiveness in patients attending obesity clinics.”

The study examined weight loss among 53 people who were attending the multidisciplinary weight management program.

Among those recruited into the study, 33 participants completed at least three of four mindfulness sessions, the researchers reported. The course included discussions of the difference between mindful and mindless eating, as well as an introduction to Compassionate Mind Therapy, which highlights the need to be aware of self-criticism as well as the importance of self confidence in achieving behavior change, the researchers explained.

Those who were in the mindfulness course lost, on average, about 6.6 pounds in the six-month period following the classes, according to the study’s findings.

Individuals who only attended one or two of the four courses lost, on average, almost 2 pounds during the same period.

The participants who did not complete the course tended to weigh more at the outset of the study than those who finished the group mindfulness course, the researchers noted.

Those who completed the mindfulness course lost nearly 6.3 pounds more, on average, than a control group of 20 individuals in the obesity management program who did not participate in the course.

“Surveys of the participants indicate mindfulness training can help this population improve their relationship with food,” Hanson said. “Individuals who completed the course said they were better able to plan meals in advance and felt more confident in self-management of weight loss moving forward.

“Similar courses can be held in a primary care setting or even developed into digital tools. We hope this approach can be scaled up to reach a wider population.”

“Mindfulness has huge potential as a strategy for achieving and maintaining good health and well-being,” added the study’s senior author, Dr. Thomas M. Barber of Warwickshire Institute for the Study of Diabetes Endocrinology and Metabolism.

“With the burgeoning impact of 21st century chronic disease, much of which relates to lifestyle behavior choices, it is logical that focus should be on enabling the populace to make appropriate lifestyle decisions, and empowering subsequent salutary behavior change. In the context of obesity and eating-related behaviors, we have demonstrated that mindfulness techniques can do just that.”

The study was published in the Endocrine Society’s Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.

Source: Endocrine Society