Mindfulness training can encourage teens to eat better
Encouraging teenagers to be mindful of what they eat is one of the simplest ways to help them improve their eating and exercise habits according to a new study.
Adding to the existing body of research on the benefits of mindfulness training, the pilot study by Augusta University in the US state of Georgia recruited 40 ninth-grade adolescents and gave them either their regular school health classes or mindfulness-based eating awareness training.
Many of the teenagers were already overweight and had unhealthy eating habits.
The teens in the mindfulness group were taught techniques such as breathing awareness meditation, how to become more aware of the taste and taste satiety of food, the benefit of exercise and mindful movement, including walking meditation, and how emotions can be involved in our food choices and cause overeating.
Twenty per cent of the participants receiving the mindfulness training reported before starting that they were not mindful of their eating habits, not realizing when they were eating too fast, or when they had eaten too much.
However after an assessment at the end of the 12-week training and during a follow-up three months later, the researchers saw that the teens who had participated in the mindfulness training improved their diets, consuming less fat and calories and reporting a decrease in perceived hunger.
Unfortunately though, the training did not improve binge-eating, reported by nearly 60 per cent of participants at the beginning of the study.
Mindfulness training also improved exercise habits, with those in the test group increasing their physical activity from 2.9 days per week to 4.3 days per week by the end of the study. Those in the control group actually decreased their activity by around half a day per week.
Commenting on the training, one of the study’s authors Dr. Vernon A. Barnes said, “This gives us a safe, inexpensive intervention that could be translated into a real-world programme for overweight kids. If you can make a practice of keeping the awareness with you at every meal, this could benefit you throughout your life.”
The results come after a research published earlier this year suggested that mindfulness training could help combat childhood obesity.
Researchers at Vanderbilt University in the US city of Nashville, Tennessee found that the brains of obese children function in a different way to those of normal weight children, causing them to eat more.
The team suggested that regular mindfulness training could help rebalance the brain connections associated with obesity and encourage children who overeat to change their behaviour towards food.