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Mindfulness Training could Enhance Weight Loss Programmes in National Efforts to Tackle Obesity

  • Study by University of Warwick researchers shows mindfulness course participants lost more weight than others in obesity management programme
  • Demonstrates that problematic eating behaviour can be improved with mindfulness application
  • University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire NHS Trust is first in United Kingdom to create a structured multidisciplinary course incorporating mindfulness and to assess its effectiveness

Mindfulness training may improve the effectiveness of intensive weight management programs, suggesting that it could be an excellent strategy for healthcare providers in preventing and managing obesity.

Researchers from the University of Warwick and the Warwickshire Institute for the Study of Diabetes Endocrinology and Metabolism at University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire NHS Trust have published their findings in the Endocrine Society’s Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.

Individuals who participated in mindfulness training as part of an intensive weight management programme lost more weight in six months than other programme participants who did not attend mindfulness courses.

Mindfulness is a mind-body practice where individuals learn to achieve heightened awareness of their current state of mind and immediate environment in the present moment. The study looked at how this practice could be used to help individuals with obesity.

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

Lead author Dr Petra Hanson, a research fellow and PhD student at University of Warwick and University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire in Coventry NHS Trust, said: “This research is significant as we have shown that problematic eating behaviour can be improved with mindfulness application. We are the first centre 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 tier 3 weight management programme at University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire NHS Trust. Among those recruited into the study, 33 participants completed at least three of four mindfulness sessions. 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 behaviour change.

Mindfulness course participants lost, on average, 3 kilograms, or about 6.6 pounds, in the six-month period following the classes. Individuals who only attended one or two of the four courses lost, on average, 0.9 kilograms, or nearly 2 pounds, during the same period. The non-completers tended to weigh more at the outset of the study than those who finished the group mindfulness course.

Those who completed the mindfulness course lost 2.85 kilograms (nearly 6.3 pounds) more, on average, than a control group of 20 individuals in the tier 3 obesity management program who did not participate in the course.

Dr Hanson added: “Surveys of the participants indicate mindfulness training can help this population improve their relationship with food. 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.”

Dr Thomas Barber, Associate Professor at the University of Warwick and Honorary Consultant Endocrinologist at University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire NHS Trust, said: “Mindfulness has huge potential as a strategy for achieving and maintaining good health and wellbeing. With the burgeoning impact of 21st century chronic disease, much of which relates to lifestyle behaviour choices, it is logical that focus should be on enabling the populace to make appropriate lifestyle decisions, and empowering subsequent salutary behaviour change.

In the context of obesity and eating-related behaviours, we have demonstrated that mindfulness techniques can do just that. Adoption of mindfulness techniques is scalable to the wider population, and as such this strategy could represent a useful expedient to facilitating healthy eating-related and potentially other lifestyle behaviours, as part of population-wide obesity prevention and management.” 

Other authors of the study include: Emma Shuttlewood, Louise Halder, Neha Shah, F.T. Lam, Vinod Menon and Thomas M. Barber of Warwickshire Institute for the Study of Diabetes Endocrinology and Metabolism at University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire NHS Trust in Coventry, U.K.

The research received no external funding support.

The study, “Application of Mindfulness in a Tier 3 Obesity Service Improves Eating Behaviour and Facilitates Successful Weight-loss,” will be published online, ahead of print.

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