People who are inherently “mindful,” meaning they maintain awareness of their own feelings and thoughts on a regular basis, are less likely to be obese or store fat in their abdomen than people who are not as mindful, according to a new study.
The research is important because it suggests a new tactic for losing or maintaining weight. The study featured 394 people who were rated on a Mindfulness Attention Scale. The researchers were looking for a characteristic they called “dispositional mindfulness,” meaning that some people seem naturally more prone to awareness of their thoughts or feelings. This is different than “mindfulness meditation,” which is a set period of time when people meditate and focus solely on their inner thoughts and emotions. The researchers, from the Brown University School of Public Health, measured the participants’ belly and hip fat and body mass index. They found that even after adjusting for other factors—such as age, smoking, and socioeconomic status—people with lower mindfulness scores were 34 percent more likely to be obese than people with the highest scores. Meanwhile, people with the lower mindfulness scores had, on average, a bit more than a pound of belly fat than people with the high scores.
Mindfulness, which other studies have shown can help people overcome cravings and eat healthier, can help people overcome the biological urge to eat every time the opportunity is presented, says lead author Eric Loucks, assistant professor of epidemiology.
Mindfulness can also help people overcome the initial hurdle of motivation when starting to exercise. While studies show that people tend to feel great post-workout, it can be hard to get started.
“That’s where the mindfulness may come in; being aware of each and every moment and how that’s related to what we do and how we feel,” Loucks says.
While not everyone is born with the predisposition to be mindful, people can learn to be more aware, Loucks adds. The study was published in the International Journal of Behavioral Medicine.