‘Mindful Eating’ Lowers Weight, Blood Sugar in Diabetes

‘Mindful Eating’ Lowers Weight, Blood Sugar in Diabetes
Eating mindfully, or consuming food in response to physical cues of hunger and fullness, is just as effective as adhering to nutrition-based guidelines in reducing weight and blood sugar levels in adults with type 2 diabetes, suggests a new study published in the November issue of the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

‘Mindful Eating’ Lowers Weight, Blood Sugar in Diabetes

In a comparison study
of the effectiveness of the two types of behavioral interventions, participants lost about the same amount of weight—an average of between 31⁄2 and 6 lbs—and lowered their long-term blood sugar levels significantly after three months.
One treatment group followed an established diabetes self-management education program, with a strong empha­sis on nutrition information. The other group was trained in mindful meditation and a mindful approach to food selec­tion and eating. Both interventions, involving weekly group meetings, also recommended physical activity.
“The more traditional education program includes general information about diabetes but with more emphasis on nutrition and food choice: What are differ­ent types of carbohydrates and fats, and how many am I supposed to have? What should I look for when I read a food label? What are healthful options when dining out? That was the traditional diabetes education program,” explains Carla Miller, PhD, an associate professor of human nutrition at Ohio State University and lead study author. “We compared it to an intervention where mind­ful meditation was applied specifically to eating and food choices. This intervention group didn’t receive specific nutrition goals. We said ‘we want you to really tune into your body before you eat. Take a few minutes to assess how hungry you are and make conscious choices about how much you’re eating. Stop eating when you’re full.’
“We studied two very different approaches, and we found they both worked,” Miller says.
Participants were between the ages of 35 and 65 and had been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes for at least one year. To be eligible, participants had to have a BMI of 27 or higher, indicating they were overweight, and a hemo­globin A1c (HbA1c) reading of at least 7%.
Study participants were randomly assigned to a treat­ment group. Twenty-seven completed the mindful eating program, and 25 completed the traditional diabetes self-management program called Smart Choices. Each inter­vention involved eight weekly and two biweekly 21⁄2-hour sessions with trained facilitators.
The interventions took place over three months. Researchers assessed participants’ health measures and dietary habits immediately after the programs concluded and then again three months later at the study’s end.
Weight loss and improvements in HbA1c levels were similar for both groups at the six-month follow-up point. Smart Choice participants as a group lost more weight, an average of 6 lbs, than did the mindful eating group, which lost an average of 3.5 lbs, but the difference wasn’t significant when analyzed statistically, Miller says.
HbA1c levels dropped in both groups as well between about 0.7% and 0.8%. “That was a clinically meaningful reduction in Hba1c, equivalent to what you’d get on some diabetes medications,” Miller says. “If the reduction were sustained over time, it would mean a dramatic reduction in complications associated with diabetes.”
Both groups also similarly reduced calorie intake and low­ered their consumption of foods with a high glycemic index.
Miller says that because nutrition education is important to people with a new diabetes diagnosis, she sees the mind­ful meditation and eating option as a potential supplement to basic diabetes education. She also said that participants adapted well to the concept of mindfulness even though it’s generally considered an alternative health practice.
“One of the things we were evaluating was how well this was accepted by people who had no experience with it. It was very well accepted by participants in that group, and this tells us that people with diabetes have choices,” Miller says. “The fact that both interventions were equally effective suggests we should let people choose. If mindful meditation is appealing and people think that approach is effective, then it very well could be the best choice for them.”

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