Reference Number: 193
Psychological distress and elevated cortisol secretion promote abdominal fat, a feature of the Metabolic Syndrome. Effects of stress reduction interventions on abdominal fat are unknown. Forty-seven overweight/obese women (mean BMI= 31.2) were randomly assigned to a 4-month intervention or waitlist group to explore effects of a mindfulness program for stress eating. We assessed mindfulness, psychological distress, eating behavior, weight, cortisol awakening response (CAR), and abdominal fat (by dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry) pre- and posttreatment. Treatment participants improved in mindfulness, anxiety, and external-based eating compared to control participants. Groups did not differ on average CAR, weight, or abdominal fat over time. However, obese treatment participants showed significant reductions in CAR and maintained body weight, while obese control participants had stable CAR and gained weight. Improvements in mindfulness, chronic stress, and CAR were associated with reductions in abdominal fat. This proof of concept study suggests that mindfulness training shows promise for improving eating patterns and the CAR, which may reduce abdominal fat over time.
SIGNIFICANCE OF THE STUDY
One modifiable risk factor that may contribute to abdominal fat deposition is chronic psychological stress. One of the most common biological marker of stress is Cortisol. Increased stress results in increased cortisol levels which can be measured in saliva or in blood. Previous research has shown that healthy men and women who exhibit increased cortisol levels in response to laboratory stress tasks have greater abdominal fat deposition and among depressed, postmenopausal women, those with higher cortisol have greater levels of abdominal fat compared to those with lower cortisol levels and healthy controls. The current clinical study explores the effects of a mindfulness- based intervention for stress eating and abdominal fat deposition. The mindfulness-based intervention was focussed around yoga sessions, guided meditation sessions and activities to encourage emotional awareness. This exploratory study shows promise for mindfulness training benefiting obese women by improving patterns of overeating and decreasing cortisol levels which may contribute to reduced abdominal fat over time. Although the intervention was not effective in reducing existing abdominal fat or improving fat distribution across all participants, improvements were observed among those who increased in mindfulness and decreased in chronic stress. The study also observed a prevention of weight gain in the obese subgroup of participants.
HOW DO WE INTERPRET AND USE THIS INFORMATION?
One of the reasons that we encourage eating mindfully is that it is proven to lower cortisol levels and the study above shows that both mindful eating, the practice of mindfulness coupled with gentle exercise might well be a significant factor in the prevention of weight gain over time.