Struggling to lose weight? Mindfulness may be the solution

The Bottom Line

  • Mindfulness has become a popular therapy for psychological problems including stress, depression and anxiety.
  • Research evidence shows that mindfulness training can help reduce urges to binge eat and encourage physical activity.
  • Online programs may offer a good introduction to mindfulness therapy.

If you’ve been paying attention to what’s been happening on the health and wellness front, you’re probably aware of the growing interest in “mindfulness.”

The practice has roots in Buddhism and involves non-judgmental and moment-to-moment awareness of thoughts, feelings, sensations and surroundings (1). It usually includes meditation (which strengthens the ability to be in the present and not get distracted by negative thoughts of the past or worries about the future) but goes beyond that to encourage greater awareness and appreciation of what’s taking place in the present while engaging in routine activities. 

Mindfulness training is at the core of popular programs for treating psychological issues and promoting mental health and well-being. Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (1) and Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (2) are two such programs which have several adaptations for specific needs, including weight management (3;4).

A safe, non-invasive and drug-free way to lose weight would definitely be a game changer: overweight increases the risk of serious chronic diseases such as heart attack, stroke and diabetes and close to 34% of Canadian adults are overweight (5). Adults with obesity and overweight have often tried – and failed – to lose weight many times (6). Is a solution really as simple as learning to “live in the moment”?

One systematic review of 12 randomized controlled trials aimed to answer that question, assessing the effects of mindfulness training on the eating and exercise behaviours of adults with obesity or overweight (7). Participants took part in training sessions for up to 24 weeks, after which their body mass index (BMI), episodes of impulsive and binge eating, and physical activity levels were measured and compared to control groups who received no mindfulness training.

What the research tells us

Participants who practiced mindfulness reported a considerable reduction in impulsive and binge eating and an increase in the time they spent exercising. There was no significant change in BMI between the study and control groups and the review authors suggest that may be due to the relatively short length of the studies. Significant weight loss doesn’t happen quickly, and – noting that longer studies did improve BMI – the authors suggest that most of the included studies did not measure weight and BMI changes over a long enough time for the decrease in calories and increase in physical activity to measurably affect body weight or composition.

Further study is urged but the evidence from these and other reviews shows that mindfulness is a promising way to help change behaviours and break long-held habits.

Curious and interested in giving mindfulness a try? One way to get started is by registering for an online mindfulness program. Studies show they can reduce stress among other mental health issues (8).

Featured Resources

Web Resource Rating: Mindfulness exercises: How to get started

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Author Details


  1. Kabat-Zinn J. Full catastrophe living: using the wisdom of your body and mind to face stress, pain, and illness. New-York, US: Delta Trade Paperbacks; 1990.
  2. Segal ZV, Williams JMG, Teasdale JD. Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy for depression: A new approach to preventing relapse. New-York, US: Guilford; 2002.
  3. Roberts KC, Danoff-Burg S. Mindfulness and health behaviors: Is paying attention good for you? J Am Coll Health. 2010; 59(3):165-173. doi: 10.1080/07448481.2010.484452
  4. Kristeller J, Wolever RQ, Sheets V. Mindfulness-based eating awareness training (MB-EAT) for binge eating: A randomized clinical trial. Mindfulness. 2014; 5:282-297. doi:10.1007/s12671-012-0179-1
  5. Statistics Canada. Overweight and obese adults (self-reported), 2014. [Internet] 2014. [cited July 2016]. Available from
  6. Hutfless S, Gudzune KA, Maruthur N, et al. Strategies to prevent weight gain in adults: A systematic review. Am J Prev Med. 2013; 45(6):e41-e51. doi: 10.1016/j.amepre.2013.07.013
  7. Ruffault A, Czernichow S, Hagger M et al. The effects of mindfulness training on weight-loss and health-related behaviours in adults with overweight an obesity: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Obes Res Clin Pract. 2016. doi: 10.1016/j.orcp.2016.09.002
  8. Spijkerman MPJ, Pots WTM, Bohlmeijer ET. Effectiveness of online mindfulness-based interventions in improving mental health: A review and meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials. Clin Psychol Rev. 2016; 45:102-114. doi: 10.1016/j.cpr.2016.03.009.

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