In the Moment

Distracted Eating

Mindfulness is one of those subjects in obesity and weight management that resonates deeply but presents challenges for collecting objective evidence. Two new studies add to the evidence that distracted eating contributes to over-consumption of food and possibly weight gain. However, good evidence for the effectiveness of mindful eating in weight management — despite its wide utilization — is tough to find.

The most recent study of distracted eating, published in the Journal of Health Psychology, has grabbed a lot of headlines this week. Jane Ogden and colleagues found that walking and eating could lead people to eat more afterwards than they would if they ate while watching TV or just talking while they ate. In this randomized, controlled study, people ate more after walking and eating even though they had no greater desire to eat.

In another recent study, Susan Higgs found that distraction while eating caused people to snack more afterwards and to remember less about their meal. Conversely, more focused attention during a meal led to less snacking afterwards. This study offers yet another clue that mindfulness can be useful for help with appetite control.

But despite plenty of suggestive evidence and personal convictions about the value of mindfulness, definitive evidence that it leads to better outcomes in weight management has yet to be nailed down. In a recent review, KayLoni Olson and Charles Emery found that studies of mindfulness for weight loss lacked sufficient rigor to ascribe an effect on weight loss outcomes to mindfulness.

Mindfulness has plenty of other benefits and plenty of fans. In the end, the precise effect upon outcomes in obesity may be moot.

Click here for the study by Ogden, here for the study by Higgs, here for the review by Olson and Emery, and here for an overview of principles and practices for mindful eating.

In the Moment, photograph © Ted Kyle

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August 24, 2015