Mindful Eating for Diabetes

Type 2 diabetes patients who practiced mindful eating reduced weight and HbA1c

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) Eating healthy to lose weight is a key part of controlling diabetes. But getting patients to eat healthy is not always easy. Two different programs may be equally helpful in getting patients to change their eating habits.

Mindful eating - or paying attention to physical signs of hunger and fullness - may work just as well as following nutrition-based guidelines when it comes to reducing weight and lowering blood sugar levels in patients with type 2 diabetes, according to recent findings.

"Eat healthy to control your diabetes."

For their study, Carla Miller, PhD, of Ohio State University, and colleagues compared two programs to change the eating behaviors of patients with type 2 diabetes.

One group of patients followed an education program called Smart Choices that focused on nutrition information to self-manage diabetes.

Patients in the second group were taught mindful meditation and mindful eating habits. This mindful approach to choosing foods and eating had two core components: "inner wisdom" and "outer wisdom." Inner wisdom is the ability to eat according to the cues of hunger and fullness.

Outer wisdom is knowing which foods are best for people with diabetes.

"The more traditional education program (Smart Choices) 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 healthy options when dining out? That was the traditional diabetes education program," said Dr. Miller.

"We compared it to an intervention where mindful meditation was applied specifically to eating and food choices," Dr. Miller continued. "This intervention group did not 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."

Dr. Miller and colleagues found that patients in both groups lowered their blood sugar levels and lost a similar amount of weight.

"We studied two very different approaches, and we found they both worked. This means people with diabetes have choices when it comes to eating a healthy diet," said Dr. Miller.

On average, patients in the Smart Choices group lost six pounds. In comparison, patients in the mindful eating group lost an average of 3.5 pounds.

The difference in weight loss was not significant when examined statistically, according to Dr. Miller.

After the interventions, patients in both groups also had drops in HbA1c - a measure of blood sugar over 3 months. HbA1c decreased between about 0.7 percent and 0.8 percent.

"That was a clinically meaningful reduction in HbA1c, equivalent to what you would get on some diabetes medications," said Dr. Miller. "If the reduction were sustained over time, it would mean a dramatic reduction in complications associated with diabetes."

The researchers also found that patients in both groups lowered the amount of calories they consumed and ate fewer foods that quickly boost blood sugar levels.

"The fact that both interventions were equally effective suggests that 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," said Dr. Miller.

Dr. Miller believes that the mindful meditation and eating option could be a great add-on to basic diabetes education, particularly because nutrition education is important to patients newly diagnosed with diabetes.

"We have so many environmental cues to eat in America that we’ve tuned out our normal physiological signals to eat. Being mindful means stopping long enough to become aware of these physiological cues," said Dr. Miller.

By the end of the study, 27 participants completed the mindful eating program while 25 completed the Smart Choices program.

The research was supported by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. The study was published in the November issue of the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

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Review Date: 
November 11, 2012
Last Updated:
May 23, 2013