The simple act of being aware of one’s emotional state may play a role in maintaining a healthy weight. A new study from Brown University finds that people who exhibited greater “dispositional mindfulness” were less likely to be obese. Dispositional mindfulness is not the same type of mindfulness that comes from meditation or yoga, but it is an “everyday mindfulness,” in which an individual has an inherent sense of his or her current feelings and thoughts. This type of mindfulness is more like a personality trait than something achieved through particular habits. However, it may be possible to develop dispositional mindfulness with practice.
The study consisted of 394 participants from the New England Family Study (NEFS), an ongoing, longitudinal study. The participants completed the Mindfulness Attention Awareness Scale (MAAS), an assessment that scores respondents on a six-point scale. For the MAAS, participants rated how much they agreed with statements like “I find it difficult to stay focused on what’s happening in the present.” The researchers measured participants’ belly and hip fat, gathered data about participants’ lifestyle factors, and collected demographic information.
The findings, adjusted for factors like smoking, age, and socioeconomic status, indicate a correlation between dispositional mindfulness and weight. Participants with low MAAS scores, indicating lesser mindfulness abilities, were 34 percent more likely to be obese than participants with a high MAAS score. On average, participants with lower MAAS scores had over a pound of belly fat more than participants with the highest scores. This finding was statistically significant.
Because NEFS is a longitudinal study, the researchers were able to analyze whether obese participants were also obese as children. They found that people who were obese as adults, but not as children, were significantly more likely to have a lower MAAS score.
The results demonstrate an association between mindfulness and weight, not a causal relationship. The researchers hypothesize that mindfulness may help people overcome the animal instinct to consume excess calories when they are available. Mindfulness may also help people find the motivation to exercise.
The connection between mindfulness and obesity is small, but significant. “Awareness seems to be enough to have a small to medium effect. Then there is the question of we could do to increase it,” stated lead study author Eric Loucks, assistant professor of epidemiology in the Brown University School of Public Health. Additional research into mindfulness could lead to interventions for people looking to lose weight or maintain a healthy weight.
This research is published in the International Journal of Behavioral Medicine.
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