Mindfulness and Food - I Am BCU Research Series

UNIVERSITY NEWS LAST UPDATED : 14 AUGUST
I Am BCU Research Series - Food and mindfulness 350x263 - Woman looking at a salad

One of the main aspects of health and well-being is our relationship with food. Below, Dr Helen Egan discusses how she, and her fellow academics in Psychology, are delving deeper into this relationship.

The way we relate to food foretells problems with a host of health conditions including obesity, eating disorders, diabetes and heart disease. Although our environment may contribute to unhealthy eating behaviours, and one focus of our undergraduate students work has been on the influence of ‘All you can eat’ restaurants on eating behaviours which was published this year, much research has focused on emotional eating and stress-induced eating.

To improve our relationship with food, myself and Dr Michael Mantzios have developed and improved several interventions that could be used in our daily lives. One of those innovative interventions is the mindful construal diary.

The mindful construal diary was created by Dr Michael Mantzios as a substitute to mindfulness meditation. Past research identified that mindfulness meditation assists people with healthier eating; however, it is not a secret that many people do not want to meditate, or find it difficult to meditate.

Our most recent published research, which was conducted by one of our undergraduate students  at the time (currently a PhD student, Ms Misba Hussein), investigated whether considering the questions within the diary mentally (instead of writing in the diary) would positively influence people who were eating their meal.

Results indicated that participants were less anxious and more mindful as a result of using the diary, which explained why using the diary assisted people in losing and maintaining weight. This research is currently followed up by another PhD student (Ms Henna Bahia), and two undergraduates, participants include students and obesity and bariatric patients in the NHS. We know from clinical evidence that people with cystic fibrosis frequently have difficulty with food and eating which contributes to poorer lung function. This diary is one of several interventions that have been adopted by our NHS partners to improve their relationship with food and eating.

The fascinating thing about the interventions we develop is that they are applicable to different people and for different reasons. For example, one of our projects relates to improving student learning and achievement through those interventions. We (together with Dr Amy Cook) are currently writing up several research projects that have indicated that mindfulness-based interventions assist in predicting student satisfaction and increased student success while attending different university courses.

Another direction of exploring the utility of those interventions is to improve risky behaviours (that is, smoking, drinking and drug use) of people with Cystic Fibrosis. After much groundwork and research that was conducted by another student of ours (Ms Rebecca Keyte), we now have the clinical baseline to suggest interventions to improve adherence and prolong life expectancy.

Similarly, I am leading the ground works of improving the health and wellbeing of our NHS staff, currently disseminating the findings, which I explored with multiple dissertation students.      

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