August 16, 2009
Science Daily/Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center
Regular yoga practice is associated with mindful eating, and people who eat mindfully are less likely to be obese, according to a new study
The study was prompted by initial findings reported four years ago by Alan Kristal, Dr.P.H., and colleagues, who found that regular yoga practice may help prevent middle-age spread in normal-weight people and may promote weight loss in those who are overweight. At the time, the researchers suspected that the weight-loss effect had more to do with increased body awareness, specifically a sensitivity to hunger and satiety than the physical activity of yoga practice itself.
"In our earlier study, we found that middle-age people who practice yoga gained less weight over a 10-year period than those who did not. This was independent of physical activity and dietary patterns. We hypothesized that mindfulness – a skill learned either directly or indirectly through yoga – could affect eating behavior," said Kristal, associate head of the Cancer Prevention Program in the Public Health Sciences Division at the Hutchinson Center.
The researchers found that people who ate mindfully – those were aware of why they ate and stopped eating when full – weighed less than those who ate mindlessly, who ate when not hungry or in response to anxiety or depression. The researchers also found a strong association between yoga practice and mindful eating but found no association between other types of physical activity, such as walking or running, and mindful eating.
"These findings fit with our hypothesis that yoga increases mindfulness in eating and leads to less weight gain over time, independent of the physical activity aspect of yoga practice," said Kristal, who is also a professor of epidemiology at the University of Washington School of Public Health.
"Beyond calories and diets, mindful eating takes a more holistic approach that can empower individuals to build positive relationships with food and eating, said first author Celia Framson, M.P.H., R.D., C.D., a former graduate student of Kristal's – and former yoga teacher – who now works with adolescents with eating disorders at Seattle Children's Hospital. "The Mindful Eating Questionnaire offers a new and relevant dimension for masuring the effectiveness of dietary behavior interventions. It also encourages nutrition and medical practitioners to consider the broad scope of behavior involved in healthy eating," she said.