Mindfulness is the moment-by-moment awareness of thoughts, feelings, body sensations, and the surrounding environment. It involves paying close attention to thoughts and feelings without judging them; it does not allow thinking about events that took place in the past or that may occur in the future.
Although mindfulness has roots in Buddhist meditation, Jon Kabat-Zinn, who founded the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in 1979, introduced the intervention to modern culture. Kabat-Zinn emphasized the need to pay attention to one’s breathing, especially during times of intense emotion. He also stressed the importance of noticing sights, sounds, and smells that may change in a moment. Kabat-Zinn is probably best known for the raisin exercise. He encouraged members of his groups to use all of their senses to observe and then taste a single raisin.
Mindfulness advocates believe that it is associated with a number of different physical and psychological benefits. These include stress relief, cardiovascular support, reductions in blood pressure and pain, and improved sleep and gastrointestinal health. In addition, mindfulness has sometimes been included in treatments for depression, substance abuse, eating disorders, anxiety disorders, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. 1
In a pilot study published in 2015 in the journal Explore, researchers from Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and Knoxville, Tennessee, wanted to learn more about the effect mindfulness would have on the emotional well-being of a community sample of teens. Twenty-eight teens, between the ages of 10 and 18 years, participated. All of them took part in a mindfulness curriculum designed for teens; it was taught in six 90-minute sessions, each dealing with a specific theme—body, thoughts, emotions, attention, loving kindness, and healthy habits. More than half of the teens were females and 79 percent were white. Surveys were conducted before the program began and after it concluded. The researchers found that after participating in the mindfulness classes the teens demonstrated small to moderate positive changes in emotional well-being. They noted that their findings suggested “that mindfulness may be an effective intervention for improving indicators of emotional well-being among an adolescent population.” 2
In a study published in 2015 online in the journal Early Intervention in Psychiatry, researchers from Cincinnati, Ohio, noted that children and teens who have a parent with bipolar disease are at increased risk for anxiety disorders. Yet, medications used to treat anxiety may increase the risk of mania in these children. As a result, the researchers wanted to learn if mindfulness would be useful with these youth. The cohort consisted of eight females and two males with a mean age of 13.2 years. They all had generalized, social, and/or separation anxiety disorders and at least one parent with bipolar disorder. The subjects participated in 12 weekly sessions of mindfulness therapy for children. The researchers learned that increases in the practicing of mindfulness were associated with decreases in anxiety. According to the researchers, “the fact that this correlation is statistically significant in such a small sample is quite compelling.” 4
In an analysis published in 2014 in the journal Eating Behaviors, researchers from Chicago and Louisville, Kentucky, wanted to determine if mindfulness programs would be useful for binge eating, emotional eating, and weight loss. So, they reviewed the literature and located 14 relevant studies published in peer-reviewed journals. Most of the studies were conducted in the United States; the participants ranged in age from 18 to 75 years. The researchers found that mindfulness interventions significantly reduced binge eating across a range of populations. “Given that binge eating decreased despite such variability in the target population and intervention, mindfulness may be a powerful tool in treating this behavior.” And, mindfulness appeared to be useful for people who reported elevated levels of emotional eating. “In addition to reducing binge eating, it appears that mindfulness meditation reduces emotional eating for those who are engaging in this behavior.” The evidence on the association between mindfulness and weight loss was mixed and inconclusive. For example, several of the studies failed to find an association between mindfulness and weight loss in the short term, but the researchers commented that “it remains unknown whether mindfulness meditation impacts long-term weight change.” 5
In a study published in 2014 in the journal Appetite, researchers from the Netherlands examined the ability of a brief mindfulness-based intervention to foster healthy eating and reduce portion sizes. The cohort consisted of 110 undergraduate students, with a mean age of 20.9 years. After listening to the 14-minute introduction to an audio-book (not related to health, food, or weight) or performing an audio mindfulness exercise for 14 minutes, the students answered questions about their moods and their audio-recordings. Then, the students were served a small or large portion of chocolate chip cookies, and they were able to eat as many cookies as they wanted. After 10 minutes, the cookies were removed. Whether or not they participated in the mindfulness intervention, the students given the larger portion of cookies ate more than the students with the small portions. The mindfulness intervention did not appear to influence portion size “even when the mindfulness intervention had increased awareness of body sensations.” 8
2. Karen Bluth, Patricia N. E. Roberson, and Susan A. Gaylord, “A Pilot Study of a Mindfulness Intervention for Adolescents and the Potential Role of Self-Compassion in Reducing Stress,” Explore 11, no. 4 (2015): 292-95.
3. Jeffrey M. Greeson, Moria J. Smoski, Edward C. Suarez et al., “Decreased Symptoms of Depression After Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction: Potential Moderating Effects of Religiosity, Spirituality, Trait Mindfulness, Sex, and Age,” Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine 21, no. 3 (2015): 166-74.
4. S. Cotton, C. M. Luberto, R. W. Sears et al., “Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy for Youth with Anxiety Disorders at Risk for Bipolar Disease: A Pilot Trial,” Early Intervention in Psychiatry (January 2015).
5. Shawn N. Katterman, Brighid M. Kleinman, Megan M. Hood et al., “Mindfulness Meditation as an Intervention for Binge Eating, Emotional Eating, and Weight Loss: A Systematic Review,” Eating Behaviors 15 (2014): 197-204.
6. J. M. Greeson, M. K. Juberg, M. Maytan et al., “A Randomized Controlled Trial of Koru: A Mindfulness Program for College Students and Other Emerging Adults,” Journal of American College Health 62, no. 4 (2014): 222-33.
7. Karen Bluth, Rebecca A. Campo, Sarah Pruteanu-Malinici et al., “A School-Based Mindfulness Pilot Study for Ethnically Diverse At-Risk Adolescents,” Mindfulness 7, no. 1 (2016): 90-94.
8. David Marchiori and Esther K. Papies, “A Brief Mindfulness Intervention Reduces Unhealthy Eating When Hungry, but Not the Portion Size Effect,” Appetite 75 (2014): 40-45.
Bluth, Karen, Patricia N. E. Roberson, and Susan A. Gaylord. “A Pilot Study of a Mindfulness Intervention for Adolescents and the Potential Role of Self-Compassion in Reducing Stress.” Explore 11, no. 4 (2015): 292-95.
Bluth, Karen, Rebecca A. Campo, Sarah Pruteanu-Malinici et al. “A School-Based Mindfulness Pilot Study for Ethnically Diverse At-Risk Adolescents.” Mindfulness 7, no. 1 (2016): 90-94.
Cotton, S., C. M. Luberto, R. W. Sears et al. “Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy for Youth with Anxiety Disorders At Risk for Bipolar Disorder: A Pilot Trial.” Early Intervention In Psychiatry (January 2015).
Greeson, J. M., M. K. Juberg, M. Maytan et al. “A Randomized Controlled Trial of Koru: A Mindfulness Program for College Students and Other Emerging Adults.” Journal of American College Health 62, no. 4 (2014): 222-33.
Greeson, Jeffrey M., Moria J. Smoski, Edward C. Suarez et al. “Decreased Symptoms of Depression After Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction: Potential Moderating Effects of Religiosity. Spirituality, Trait Mindfulness, Sex, and Age.” Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine 21, no. 3 (2015): 166-74.
Katterman, Shawn N., Brighid M. Kleinman, Megan M. Hood et al. “Mindfulness Meditation as an Intervention for Binge Eating, Emotional Eating, and Weight Loss: A Systematic Review.” Eating Behaviors 15 (2014): 197-204.
Marchiori, David, and Esther K. Papies. “A Brief Mindfulness Intervention Reduces Unhealthy Eating When Hungry, but Not the Portion Size Effect.” Appetite 75 (2014): 40-45.
Olson, KayLoni L., and Charles F. Emery. “Mindfulness and Weight Loss: A Systematic Review.” Psychosomatic Medicine 77 (2015): 59-67.
Ussher, Michael, Amy Spatz, Claire Copland et al. “Immediate Effects of a Brief Mindfulness-Based Body Scan on Patients with Chronic Pain.” Journal of Behavioral Medicine 37 (2014): 127-34.