Chew on This: Self-Control, Eating, and Mindfulness

Eric Scott Barreau

Abstract


The proportion of people who are overweight or obese has reached pandemic levels. In 2013, the American Heart Association reported that 23.9 million children and 154.7 million adults were overweight or obese (Go et al., 2013). One factor highly relevant to this problem is self-control, which is the ability to regulate our actions in pursuit of goals and to bring them in line with various standards (Baumeister, Vohs, & Tice, 2007). Individuals low in self-control may be more likely to overeat. For example, Vohs and Heatherton (2000) demonstrated that placing tempting and available snack food in close proximity to dieters resulted in greater subsequent consumption of ice cream compared to nondieters due to depletion of their self-control resources. Mindfulness meditation is an intervention shown to restore depleted self-control (Friese, Messner, & Schaffner, 2012). Furthermore, mindful eating is another promising means to combat overweight and obesity. Mindful eating is a non-judgmental awareness of physical and emotional experiences that arise when eating or when in an environment where food is present (Framson et al., 2009). Framson and colleagues (2009) stated that the practice of eating mindfully increases awareness of why one eats and thus may be beneficial in weight loss or weight management. Thus, the purpose of the present study is to examine the effectiveness of a brief mindfulness meditation intervention in restoring participants’ self-control and increasing mindful eating behaviors. This study consists of a 2 (self-control depletion or no self-control depletion) x 2 (mindfulness meditation intervention or distractor task) experimental design. First, participants will complete an emotion suppression task, with those in the self-control depletion condition instructed to suppress their emotions, and those in the no self-control depletion condition instructed to allow their emotions to arise naturally. Next, participants in the mindfulness meditation intervention will listen to a guided meditation audio clip, while those in the distractor task condition will complete a series of connect-the-dot figures. Finally, all participants will be placed in a waiting room scenario where candy will be available, after which their self-reported mindful eating will be assessed, as well as the amount of candy consumed. It is hypothesized that participants whose self-control is not depleted and those who receive the mindfulness meditation intervention will eat less and report being more mindful while eating during this waiting room scenario. Data collection is ongoing, but early pilot-testing of the emotion suppression task indicated that it was effective in depleting participants’ self-control, as participants who were instructed to suppress their emotions scored significantly lower on a cognitive self-control task than participants in the non-suppression group t(18) = 1.85, p = .046. Data collection is expected to be completed by December, 2014.

Keywords


Mindfulness; Self-Control; Eating

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