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Mindfulness Approaches for Disordered Eating and Weight Management

Jessica Gokee LaRose, PhD

One of the central issues plaguing the field of behavioral obesity treatment remains the large variability in response within behavioral weight management programs. There are a variety of potential explanations for this heterogeneity in response, including genetics, metabolism, as well as a host of psychological and behavioral variables. From a behavioral and psychological perspective, data indicate that those individuals who experience loss of control eating, binge eating and/or emotional eating often experience suboptimal outcomes in traditional programs. Thus, efforts to address these factors within treatment programs may serve to reduce variability and improve treatment response across a larger proportion of participants. One potential approach to improving outcomes that has garnered increasing attention from behavioral scientists is mindfulness and acceptance based approaches. Mindfulness based interventions hold potential to improve emotional eating and thereby have clinical significance for both disordered eating and obesity treatments.

According to recent reviews (Katterman et al 2014; O'Reilly et al 2014), mindfulness based approaches have demonstrated efficacy for reducing emotional eating and binge eating, with less conclusive findings related to weight loss. Researchers have posited that particularly for those individuals who are more responsive to cues that motivate overeating, acceptance and commitment approaches may promote better self-regulation and long-term weight loss (Forman & Butryn 2015). It is quite possible that mindfulness and acceptance based approaches might enhance treatment outcomes, particularly among those individuals who experience emotional eating and may not fare as well in traditional behavioral programs. However, there remains much work to be done in this area.

The upcoming SBM 2016 Annual Meeting in Washington, DC, offers some exciting opportunities to hear about emerging data in this area. To kick things off on Wednesday, March 30, there is a pre-conference seminar, Seminar 16: Understanding the Principles at Work in Mind-Body Programmes and Integrating those into Behavior Change Interventions, which will be led by James Carmody, PhD.

The following day, Thursday, March 31, there are several paper sessions of interest:

  • Paper Session 4: Emotion and Eating Behavior includes presentations on whether food reward sensitivity increases risk for disordered eating behaviors, a paper on introspective awareness and emotional eating, and findings related to distress tolerance, overeating, and food addiction.
  • During Paper Session 14: Intervention Strategies to Improve Weight Loss Interventions, Evan Forman, PhD, and colleagues will present their recent work comparing an acceptance based behavioral weight loss program to standard behavioral treatment for weight loss in the paper titled "Acceptance-Based BWL Treatment Outperforms Standard BT: Outcomes from the Mind Your Health Study."
  • Paper Session 22: Military and Veteran Health includes a paper on psychiatric comorbidity and emotional eating in veterans seeking weight management. And there will be a panel discussion on adapting mindfulness based interventions for minority populations.

Finally, on Friday, April 1, be sure to check out Paper Session 50: Whole Health: Mind, Body, Spirit where data will be presented from two studies in this area. Ashley E. Mason, PhD, will present the paper titled "Reductions in Reward-Driven Eating Mediate Effects of a Mindfulness-Based Program on Weight Loss in Obesity: Data from a Randomized Controlled Trial", and Amy Heard, BA, will present "Mindfulness Moderates the Relation between Body Image and Disordered Eating Attitudes."

As always, the Annual Meeting promises to be full of cutting edge science. There are also a variety of professional development sessions at this year's meeting. On Thursday, be sure to check out the Obesity and Eating Disorders and Student SIGs' Breakfast Roundtable: Achieving Work/Life Balance in an Age of Opportunities. We look forward to seeing you in DC!


Katterman et al. Mindfulness meditation as an intervention for binge eating, emotional eating, and weight loss: A systematic review. Eating Behaviors. 2014;15(2):197-204.

O'Reilly GA, Cook L, Spruijt-Metz D, Black DS. Mindfulness-based interventions for obesity-related eating behaviours: a literature review. Obes Rev. 2014 Jun;15(6):453-61.

Forman EM, Butryn ML. A new look at the science of weight control: how acceptance and commitment strategies can address the challenge of self-regulation. Appetite. 2015;84:171-80.