Obesity is a major public health concern associated with a range of health complications resulting in high social and economic burden [1
]. Individuals with overweight or obesity are more likely than people without overweight or obesity to recurrently engage in episodes of eating that are considered to be more than a normal amount of food (i.e., binge eating) [2
], which can contribute to an individual’s inability to lose weight or to maintain a lower weight after weight loss [3
]. Epidemiological data suggest a growing prevalence of individuals with obesity and comorbid eating disorder behaviors, such as binge eating [4
]. Binge eating behaviors are associated with an impaired quality of life [4
]; indeed, both eating-related and general psychopathologies are more pronounced in individuals with obesity who binge eat compared to those who do not binge eat [2
]. In addition to binge eating, many individuals with obesity report feeling unable to stop eating or to control how much they are eating despite their best intentions [3
]. This experience is clinically referred to as a loss of control over eating
and is a key feature of binge eating in individuals with eating disorders [5
]. Experiencing loss of control over eating predicts distress [6
], impairment in psychosocial functioning [6
], and global eating pathology [7
] and is suggested to be a stronger predictor of psychological distress than the amount of food consumed [6
]. Thus, the sense of loss of control over eating is included in the diagnostic criteria for binge eating disorder [5
]. Binge eating is categorized into two subgroups to assist in capturing the full spectrum of this pathology: (1) objective binge eating, that is, when loss of control over eating is coupled with consuming what is considered to be a large amount of food; and (2) subjective binge eating, that is, when loss of control over eating is experienced but the amount consumed is not large [8
Although both loss of control over eating and binge eating are psychological drivers of overeating that independently contribute to obesity, interventions for overweight and obesity rarely address such psychological factors; instead, they routinely focus on diet and physical activity [3
]. Evidence suggests that individuals with eating disorders and comorbid overweight or obesity are at greater risk of health issues than individuals presenting with just one of these conditions [9
]. Therefore, treatments for overweight and obesity that also address psychological factors contributing to loss of control over eating and binge eating are necessary to assist with weight loss treatment efficacy.
Potential strategies to reduce binge eating and associated behaviors are mindfulness-based interventions [10
]. Mindfulness involves present awareness and acceptance (nonjudgement) of internal and external events (e.g., thoughts, feelings, sensations, environmental experiences), and has been associated with improved psychological well-being in clinical and nonclinical populations [10
]. Hence, mindfulness interventions have also been suggested as potential treatment strategies for people with eating disorder behaviors and comorbid overweight or obesity [3
]. The efficacy of mindfulness-based treatment was recently demonstrated in a clinical trial in which 194 men and women with obesity engaged in a diet and exercise program for five and a half months with or without the inclusion of mindfulness training [3
]. Six months after completion of the intervention, individuals who had been randomized to the mindfulness treatment experienced less frequent loss of control over eating and had lost more weight compared with those who had been randomized to the control condition (i.e., no mindfulness training) [3
]. Another clinical trial randomized 140 men and women with obesity who also met the diagnostic criteria for binge eating disorder to one of three conditions: a mindfulness-based treatment aiming to cultivate awareness of hunger and satisfaction, a cognitive-behavioral and educational-based treatment, and a wait-list control [13
]. Out of the 92 participants who completed the 12-session treatments, those who received mindfulness-based treatment had significantly less binge eating episodes compared with those who received the cognitive-behavioral treatment and those on a wait-list control [13
]. Furthermore, 68% of individuals in the mindfulness-based treatment no longer met the diagnostic criteria for binge eating disorder at four months post-treatment, compared with 46% of individuals receiving the alternative treatment and 36% of wait-list control participants. Despite differences in binge eating, participants in both treatment groups lost equivalent amounts of weight, suggesting that weight loss was unrelated to the observed reduction in binge eating in this study [13
]. A recent meta-analysis examining the effects of mindfulness on health behaviors in individuals with overweight or obesity corroborated these findings [14
]. Specifically, the aggregation of data across 12 randomized controlled trials revealed that mindfulness training significantly reduced binge eating but did not influence weight loss [14
]. However, the authors of that meta-analysis noted important limitations within the reviewed body of literature, including small samples sizes and selection bias [14
]. Furthermore, the above-reviewed studies included men and women aged 18 years and over [3
], thus limiting the generalizability of these findings to specific populations, such as postmenopausal women, a population in which eating disorders appear common [16
The abovementioned intervention studies are corroborated by studies suggesting an association between higher levels of mindfulness and lower eating pathology [17
]. One of these publications [19
] involved a longitudinal study with 300 female undergraduate students in which mindfulness was defined using a measure that examines an individual’s total mindfulness and five distinct facets of mindfulness (based on the constructs of the Five-Facet Mindfulness Questionnaire: observe
, act with awareness
, and nonreact
]). Results revealed that greater levels of the facet named nonreact
(i.e., higher nonreactivity to inner experience) predicted lower binge eating six months later [19
]. This finding is consistent with previous research also examining female undergraduate students indicating that the facets of act with awareness
, and nonreact
were negatively associated with eating pathologies [18
]. Additionally, research with young women who were receiving formal treatment for eating disorders found that those with higher levels of certain aspects of mindfulness (e.g., awareness, acceptance) upon admission displayed lower eating disorder symptomology [21
]. Furthermore, the women who reported the greatest increase in mindfulness throughout their treatment experienced the best treatment outcomes [21
]. Together, these findings suggest that greater levels of mindfulness are associated with lower eating pathology among young women. However, the homogenous samples used within these studies limit the generalizability of these findings to other age groups (e.g., postmenopausal women).
While eating disorders are most prevalent in young women [23
], up to 15.3% of postmenopausal women have reportedly met diagnostic criteria for an eating disorder [24
]. Moreover, this figure may not accurately reflect the number of postmenopausal women who have eating disorders, as many women within this demographic remain undiagnosed. For instance, recent data [25
] showed that middle-aged women with disordered eating behaviors predominantly exhibit binge eating behaviors that may or may not reach diagnostic levels, rather than “classical” eating disorder presentations (i.e., anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder). Thus, their symptoms are more likely to remain undetected by clinicians who are less familiar with disordered eating behaviors that do not reach diagnostic criteria (i.e., other specified and unspecified feeding and eating disorders [5
]). Despite the high prevalence of eating disorders in older women [24
] and the understanding that eating disorder prevalence within this population has increased remarkably over the last decade [25
], postmenopausal women remain largely understudied. Thus, the current study aims to explore the relationship between mindfulness and binge eating in postmenopausal women with obesity. In accordance with the literature suggesting that mindfulness-based techniques are an effective treatment strategy to reduce disordered eating behaviors and research demonstrating that higher levels of mindfulness are associated with lower eating pathology, it was predicted that higher levels of mindfulness would be associated with lower levels of binge eating and loss of control over eating.
This study comprehensively examined the relationships between mindfulness and binge eating in postmenopausal women with obesity. In line with our hypotheses, mindfulness was negatively associated with the total number of binge eating episodes within the last 28 days, as well as with participants’ perceived loss of control over eating. Furthermore, regardless of how data were divided (zero vs. one or more binge eating episodes, or three or fewer vs. four or more binge eating episodes in the past 28 days), participants who reported lower levels of binge eating had significantly higher mindfulness. Collectively, these findings show that higher levels of mindfulness are associated with less binge eating frequency and loss of control over eating in postmenopausal women with obesity. While total mindfulness scores allow for general interpretations to be made, exploring the relationships between binge eating behaviors and each component of mindfulness individually allowed for more detailed analyses and interpretations. These analyses revealed that participants with higher levels of the mindfulness components of nonjudgement (from the FFMQ) and engagement (from the LMS) were consistently less likely to report binge eating behaviors. Other mindfulness components from the FFMQ that were significantly associated with binge eating or loss of control over eating, albeit not consistently throughout all analyses, were observe, describe, act with awareness, and nonreact.
It is of interest that higher levels of nonjudgement
were associated with lower levels of binge eating and loss of control over eating. Corroborating previous knowledge in undergraduate women [18
], the current findings show that postmenopausal women with obesity who did not engage in binge eating behaviors, or who engaged in subclinical versus clinical levels of binge eating, displayed significantly higher levels of nonjudgement
compared to those who did. Taken together, these findings suggest that postmenopausal women with obesity who do not evaluate inner experiences negatively are less likely to engage in binge eating behaviors.
is a component of the LMS that measures an individual’s capacity to actively attend to and be aware of the current environment and him- or herself. Consistent with previous research indicating that higher internal awareness is associated with less disordered eating [21
], and that increasing internal attentiveness using mindfulness-based interventions can reduce habitual responses such as overeating [13
], the current study found that participants with higher levels of mindfulness exhibited significantly less binge eating episodes compared with those with lower levels of mindfulness. These findings extend upon the current body of knowledge by indicating that cultivating engagement and awareness in the present moment may also be an important consideration for postmenopausal women with obesity.
Two other noteworthy components of the FFMQ in this study were describe and nonreact. Here, we found that participants with subclinical versus clinical levels of binge eating had higher levels of the describe component of the FFMQ. This suggests that participants who are more likely to express their experiences (e.g., sensations, thoughts, and emotions) in words are less likely to exhibit clinical levels of binge eating. However, while significant in some analyses, these associations did not occur consistently, and thus, the describe component of mindfulness may not be as critical as nonjudgement and engagement when considering binge eating behaviors specifically. Similar to describe, the observed relationships between eating pathology and levels of nonreact—referring to an individual’s ability to self-regulate and refrain from outwardly reacting to experiences—were inconsistent across analyses. While levels of nonreact were significantly negatively associated with the total number of binge eating episodes and perceived loss of control over eating, there was no difference in nonreact between participants with zero or subclinical levels of binge eating and those with some or clinical levels of binge eating, respectively. Taken together, these findings suggest that there may be merit in investigating the describe and nonreact aspects of mindfulness in future studies, but that these may not be fundamental characteristics associated with binge eating behaviors in postmenopausal women with obesity.
Finally, some contrasting findings emerged regarding the observe
measure of the FFMQ; specifically, this component was significantly positively
correlated with binge eating behaviors. However, substantial problems regarding the validity of the observe
measure of the FFMQ have been reported elsewhere [22
], as outlined in Section 2.2.3
, and hence, the results from this measure that are in contrast to the rest of the findings from this study may not be relevant.
Limitations must be considered when interpreting these data. Due to the correlational nature of the present study design, it is plausible that other unmeasured third variable factors may have mediated the relationship between mindfulness and binge eating behaviors in our study. Also, the direction of causality cannot be elucidated from our study—that is, for instance, whether low mindfulness caused binge eating behaviors or vice versa, if at all. Finally, the differential correlations observed within the mindfulness subscales are of unclear significance since no factor analysis was employed to determine the extent to which intercorrelation existed between variables. However, the current study also has several strengths. Firstly, the construct of mindfulness was precisely and comprehensively defined; indeed, two interrelated and validated measures were used to assess this complex construct. Adopting these measures allowed for an overview of mindfulness and also provided specific information regarding individual components of mindfulness. Furthermore, the study controlled for concerns regarding the observe
measure, as mentioned in Section 2.2.3
(i.e., that people who meditate or do not meditate may have different outcomes on this construct due to a training effect). The resultant four-facet FFMQ (the FFMQ without the observe
component), as well as the FFMQ, were both assessed using correlations and t
-tests, with results across both models being comparable, thereby enhancing confidence in the results. An additional strength of this study is that data were divided and analyzed in two distinct ways, allowing for thorough investigation. Indeed, regardless of how the data were divided or analyzed, results were largely cohesive, providing further validation of these findings and statistical methods. Another study strength was the medium to large sample size recruited. This is of particular interest since limited sample sizes are common within this research field and may affect statistical rigor [12
]. Finally, the benefits of mindfulness-based treatments are generally assessed immediately or up to six months postintervention [11
]. Thus, the current study contributes to the literature by assessing relationships between stable
levels of mindfulness and how these general dispositions relate to binge eating behaviors.