Mindfulness interventions for healthier eating

Researchers at BCU have developed novel interventions to help overweight people make the necessary lifestyle changes needed in order to lose and maintain weight.

A selection of healthy eating options on a table

Research background

Obesity in the UK is estimated to affect one in every four adults, with 62 percent of the UK population being classed as overweight and 25 percent as obese.

Obesity and obesity-related health problems may lead to potentially life-threatening conditions such as type 2 diabetes and strokes, as well as depression and a decrease in quality of life.

The NHS are currently spending at least £5.1 billion on treating obesity and related illnesses.

Mantzios and Egan’s research programme responds to these concerns, as well as the need for easy-to-use and widely available tools to support self-regulation in eating and weight maintenance.

How has the research been carried out?

Mantzios and Egan have created a number of mindfulness-based interventions for healthy eating.

One is the Mindful Construal Diary, which can be used either prior to or during eating. This helps the user keep their focus on the meal they are about to have (instead of being inattentive of the taste, smell and texture of the food), proposing a mindful eating practice.

Another is Mindful Chocolate Practice, based on the Mindful Raisin Practice, which was developed to engage people into mindful eating through traditional contemplative practices.

Finally, the team developed the Mindful Construal Reflection to replicate mindfulness meditative practices and enhance mindful eating in a group of obese NHS patients.

Mantzios and Egan are the first researchers to explore mindfulness, mindful eating and self-compassion constructs in relation to fat and sugar consumption.

They found that mindfulness was a stronger correlate of lower fat and sugar consumption, and that self-compassion, traditionally thought to contribute to healthier eating, did not have any effect on behaviour.

They then identified that self-kindness/compassion as a construct related to eating behaviours was not widely understood  and that individuals often associated self-kindness with self-indulgence, and not with healthy eating behaviours.

Mantzios and Egan suggested that this problematic association between self-kindness and self-indulgence should be investigated further in order to successfully integrate self-kindness into practical programs for weight regulation.

Outcomes and impact

The team’s Mindful Construal Diary and Mindful Construal Reflection have been considered and/or adopted for clinical use across the UK, including University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust and Devon Partnership NHS Trust.

Mantzios and Egan’s work has also been adopted within French and Greek health services.

The tools have been effective in supporting weight regulation and change in eating behaviours, as well as having a positive impact on health professionals’ own clinical practice.

Meanwhile, the Mindful Construal Reflection has radically improved the eating behaviours of those who participated in its trial.

For example, both patient groups noted how it has empowered them to eat more fruit and veg, to regulate their portions and to identify when they are full.

REF 2021

Birmingham City University's hub for everything related to the Research Excellence Framework.

REF 2021

Dr Michael Mantzios

Reader in Health Psychology / Mental Health and Wellbeing Lead

Michael is teaching several topics in Psychology, and is mainly interested in Health Psychology outcomes. He is a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy, and is working on research projects that relate to obesity, eating behaviours, mindfulness, self-compassion, self-kindness, colouring books and Higher Education.

Dr Helen Egan

Reader in Health Psychology

Research areas include the role of mindfulness, self-compassion and self-kindness in health and wellbeing, eating behaviours and barriers and facilitators of adherence to medical regimens in people living with Cystic Fibrosis and in clinical weight management and obesity. Helen is interested in how these impact on health and academic attainment of students in higher education, and the impact on health of working in job roles that demand a high level of occupational compassion including NHS workers, religious ministry and the emergency services.