Mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs) for weight loss may be an effective method for keeping off the extra pounds. Barbara Higham takes a look at the findings of a new review and suggests that mindfulness is a worthwhile practice, no matter what your weight.

Mindfulness for weight loss
When you’re dieting, portions seem made for tiny tummies … (Ellen Van Deelen)

At the start of the new year, many of us will have embarked on weight loss programs wanting to shed those extra pounds we may have piled on during an overindulgent holiday period. By the start of February, how many of us won’t have abandoned the attempt to change our eating habits? And, perhaps more importantly, how many of us will continue to feel stressed about food, eating, and our general sense of well-being?

Learning stress-reducing skills to cope better with daily anxiety, worry and self-criticism is possible through the practice of mindfulness. Current research suggests that meditation and yoga can boost overall well-being and resilience to stress factors (Cahn, Goodman, Peterson, Maturi, & Mills, 2017). It seems that the practice of mindfulness and the ability to free your mind of negative thoughts may well be a skill that people can harness to help them improve their dietary habits.

Mindfulness-Based Interventions (MBIs) for Weight Loss

Researchers at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, have published a systematic review and meta-analysis of studies that have looked into how mindfulness can help people to lose excess weight and avoid regaining the weight they have lost (Carrière, Khoury, Günak, & Knäuper, 2017).

The review’s analysis looked at 19 studies conducted in the last decade. The research looked at mindfulness practices for weight loss, with reference to formal meditation practice, casual mindfulness training targeting eating habits, and a combination of meditation and mindfulness strategies. Across the board they found that mindfulness was

moderately to largely effective in reducing weight loss and improving obesity-related eating behaviors.

Regimes based only on dietary changes and exercise resulted in better immediate outcomes (these participants had a 4.7 percent body weight loss compared to 3.3 percent loss in those practicing mindfulness). But, interestingly, after several weeks using the interventions, participants who used mindfulness techniques continued to lose excess weight steadily. Conversely, participants who did not engage in MBIs did not lose further weight, and many even have regained some of the weight they had successfully lost. Perhaps those employing MBIs had better self-control as a result of learning to be less self-critical?

Mindfulness-Based Interventions (MBIs) for Weight Loss

The fact remains that there is no validated way of measuring “mindfulness” and the studies did not universally separate clinical and non-clinical participants, i.e. did not record eating disorders. Despite the shortcomings, the authors of the review say the findings are encouraging. The results do suggest that MBIs are effective in reducing weight and improving obesity-related eating behaviors. Further research is needed to examine their efficacy for weight loss maintenance.

Regardless of whether you want to lose weight or not, if you are interested in mindfulness-based solutions to help you stress less and live better, have a look at this book by Dr. Diane Sanford, an expert in helping you find effective ways to reduce anxiety, worry, and self-criticism.


Stress Less Live BetterCahn, B. R., Goodman, M. S., Peterson, C. T., Maturi, R., & Mills, P. J. (2017). Yoga, Meditation and Mind-Body Health: Increased BDNF, Cortisol Awakening Response, and Altered Inflammatory Marker Expression after a 3-Month Yoga and Meditation Retreat. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 11. doi:10.3389/fnhum.2017.00315

Carrière, K., Khoury, B., Günak, M. M., & Knäuper, B. (2017). Mindfulness-based interventions for weight loss: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Obesity Reviews. doi:10.1111/obr.12623