Stress is a way of life for many busy women after 40, so is weight gain. What stress, cortisol and weigh gain have in common and how we can reduce stress and manage weight with ease using mindful eating approach and stress reduction techniques?
A new study by researchers at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) published in the online Journal of Obesity explored the methods and effectiveness of mindful eating and stress-reduction techniques to help in the prevention of weight gain without diet intervention.
Women participants who experienced the greatest reduction in stress tended to lose the greatest quantities of deep belly (visceral) fat associated with an elevated risk of cardiovascular and metabolic disease.
UCSF researcher Jennifer Daubenmier, PhD, from the Osher Center for Integrative Medicine explains part of the mindful eating purpose and methodology, “You’re training the mind to notice, but to not automatically react based on habitual patterns – to not reach for a candy bar in response to feeling sad, for example.
If you can first recognize what you are feeling before you act, you have a greater chance of making a wiser decision.” Daubenmier led the study with UCSF psychologist Elissa Epel, PhD as part of ongoing research into how stress and the stress hormone cortisol are linked toeating behavior, fat, and health.
The 47 chronically stressed, overweight and obese women who participated in the study were not placed on any sort of calorie-based diet, but 24 were randomly assigned to mindfulness training and practice, while the remaining 23 served as the control group. All participants attended one session about the basics of healthy eating and exercise.
The mindfulness training techniques were adapted from methods developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD, the first director of the Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.
The mindful-eating techniques used are part of a larger program developed by Jean Kristeller, PhD of Indiana State University. The mindfulness training included nine weekly sessions (2 ½ hours long) where the women learned stress reduction techniques and how to become more aware of their eating behaviors by recognizing bodily sensations such as hunger, fullness, and taste satisfaction.
During week six the participants in the treatment group attended an intensive seven-hour, silent meditation retreat. Furthermore, the women were asked to engage in 30 minutes of meditation exercises each day and practice mindful eating during meals. The research team used a tested survey to gauge psychological stress before and after the four-month study, and recorded the women’s body fat and cortisol levels.
Changes in the quantity of visceral fat and overall weight were examined, as well as cortisol levels shortly after awakening (time when the hormone peaks in those under chronic stress). Among the women in the treatment group, changes in body awareness, chronic stress, cortisol secretion and abdominal fat were clearly linked.
Those who improved the most in properly reacting to their body’s cues and stress had the greatest reductions in cortisol and abdominal fat. Those in the control group maintained stable cortisol levels and continued to gain weight over the study period. “In this study we were trying to cultivate people’s ability to pay attention to their sensations of hunger, fullness and taste satisfaction as a guide for limiting how much they eat,” explains Daubenmier. “We tried to reduce eating in response to emotions or external cues that typically drive eating behavior.” (Journal of Obesity, 2011)
If you need help, please join 8-week mindful eating coaching program.