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The mindfulness-body connection

Health, and health-promoting habits, are massively influenced by how you think. This systematic review looked at mindfulness interventions, to see if they led to weight loss and psychological benefits.

Study under review: Mindfulness-based interventions for adults who are overweight or obese: a metaanalysis of physical and psychological health outcomes.

Introduction

Several[1] studies[2] have found an association between overweight[3] and obesity and mental health issues like anxiety and depression in both adults and children[4].

Most weight loss approaches focus only on the behaviors of eating and perhaps exercise in order to lose weight. This approach tends to ignore the psychological and emotional issues that sometimes co-occur with overweight and obesity. One approach that has the potential[5] to impact both weight and psychological well-being is mindfulness[6].

Mindfulness doesn’t have[7] a single agreed-upon formal definition, but the definitions which exist point to similar qualities. The founder of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, Jon Kabat-Zinn, has described mindfulness as attending to the present moment intentionally and non-judgmentally. This form of awareness to the present moment cultivates curiosity and tends to lead to acceptance of what is happening internally and externally. This may help people lose weight; if a person feels hungry or has an urge to eat, they can accept the feeling by being mindful of it instead of automatically acting upon it.

This makes it sound like mindfulness could be helpful for people with overweight or obesity in theory. But does it work in practice? This question has been partially addressed in three previous[8] systematic[9] reviews[10], and the short answer to this question leans toward ‘yes’. The reason these reviews only provide a partial answer, however, is because all three either included studies where BMI wasn’t reported, or lumped people with BMIs above and below 25 into one big group. So, none of these reviews fully addressed the question of whether mindfulness is effective in people with a BMI greater than 25.

The present systematic review and meta-analysis attempted to address these concerns.

Mindfulness involves paying attention to present moment experiences intentionally and non-judgmentally. Cultivating this skill may help with people with overweight or obesity both lose weight and improve psychological well-being. Previous systematic reviews examining this issue have either included people with BMIs less than 25 or included studies where no BMIs were reported. The current study attempted to fill this gap by analyzing people whose BMIs were over 25.

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