Can being mindful affect how much you eat?
Featured this week on the BBC TWO series ‘Trust Me I’m a Doctor’, a City research study investigates whether mindful eating affects how much we eat.
Aired on Wednesday night’s episode of BBC TWO’s Trust Me I’m a Doctor series, presenter Dr Michael Mosley and his team visited Dr Katy Tapper and Dr Lana Seguias at City, University of London, to learn about their study investigating whether mindful eating affects how much we eat, and could help people eat more healthily.
The term ‘mindful eating’ is used to refer to a range of different strategies, although in this case the team just looked at one aspect - paying attention to your food as you eat. Previous research has shown that thinking about the look, smell, taste and texture of your food as you eat can sometimes lead to lower consumption of high calorie foods.
Dr Tapper, Reader at the Department of Psychology at City, and who led the research, said:
'There are a number of possible reasons for this effect. It may be because it prompts people to eat more slowly, increasing the amount of time that food spends in the mouth. We know that this can make us feel full more quickly which may lead us to eat less.'
However, findings in this area are inconsistent; whilst a number of studies have shown a reduction in energy intake, others have not. In the study featured on the BBC programme there were no differences in the amounts eaten by those who had been asked to eat mindfully compared to those who had not. There were also no differences in the types of foods eaten. The findings have since been published in the journal Appetite.
A participant in the study reflected:
‘It was a great opportunity to be a part of this City Uni study and meet people from a variety of backgrounds. I wasn’t surprised by the results and they just went to show how complex psychology can be and why most people find it so fascinating.’
Dr Tapper further commented:
If mindful eating reduces intake because it slows people down, we may only see effects in those instances where people are typically inclined to eat more quickly, such as when they are very hungry or rushing to get things done. We also know that there is a hereditary component to speed of eating; some people tend to be faster eaters than others. So it’s possible we’ll only see benefits among those who naturally eat more quickly.
The team are conducting further research, in collaboration with academics at the University of Bristol, to explore these possibilities.
The research also forms part of a broader programme of work looking at the effects of a range of different mindfulness-based strategies on health-related behaviours such as diet, exercise and smoking.
Find out more
Watch the feature on BBC 2's Trust Me I’m a Doctor, Season Two, Episode 6, available online for the next 11 months (segment can be found 00:00-06:49).
Read the full study article in the journal Appetite.
Read Dr Tapper’s opinion piece in The Conversation, ‘Beware the claim that mindful eating will help you lose weight’.
About the academic
Dr Katy Tapper is Reader in Psychology at City, University of London, and joined the university as a Senior Lecturer in Psychology in June 2012. She previously held positions at Swansea, Cardiff and Bangor Universities.