Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Healthcare, and Society, Division of Mindfulness; Department of Quantitative Health Sciences; Department of Family Medicine and Community Health; Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences
Alternative and Complementary Medicine | Dietetics and Clinical Nutrition | Health Psychology | Nutritional and Metabolic Diseases | Psychiatry and Psychology | Psychological Phenomena and Processes
Emotional and other maladaptive eating behaviors develop in response to a diversity of triggers, from psychological stress to the endless external cues in our modern food environment. While the standard approach to food- and weight-related concerns has been weight-loss through dietary restriction, these interventions have produced little long-term benefit, and may be counterproductive. A growing understanding of the behavioral and neurobiological mechanisms that underpin habit formation may explain why this approach has largely failed, and pave the way for a new generation of non-pharmacologic interventions. Here, we first review how modern food environments interact with human biology to promote reward-related eating through associative learning, i.e., operant conditioning. We also review how operant conditioning (positive and negative reinforcement) cultivates habit-based reward-related eating, and how current diet paradigms may not directly target such eating. Further, we describe how mindfulness training that targets reward-based learning may constitute an appropriate intervention to rewire the learning process around eating. We conclude with examples that illustrate how teaching patients to tap into and act on intrinsic (e.g., enjoying healthy eating, not overeating, and self-compassion) rather than extrinsic reward mechanisms (e.g., weighing oneself), is a promising new direction in improving individuals' relationship with food.
craving, disordered eating, maladaptive eating behaviors, mindful eating, mindfulness, obesity, operant conditioning, reward
Rights and Permissions
Copyright © 2018 Brewer, Ruf, Beccia, Essien, Finn, van Lutterveld and Mason. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.
DOI of Published Version
Front Psychol. 2018 Sep 10;9:1418. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2018.01418. eCollection 2018. Link to article on publisher's site
Frontiers in psychology
Brewer JA, Ruf A, Beccia A, Essien GI, Finn LM, van Lutterveld R, Mason AE. (2018). Can Mindfulness Address Maladaptive Eating Behaviors? Why Traditional Diet Plans Fail and How New Mechanistic Insights May Lead to Novel Interventions. Open Access Articles. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2018.01418. Retrieved from https://escholarship.umassmed.edu/oapubs/3595
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
Alternative and Complementary Medicine Commons, Dietetics and Clinical Nutrition Commons, Health Psychology Commons, Nutritional and Metabolic Diseases Commons, Psychological Phenomena and Processes Commons