Home Clinical Psychology & Psychotherapy State Mindfulness Is Linked to Reduced Restrictive Eating Over Time in Anorexia, Finds New Study

State Mindfulness Is Linked to Reduced Restrictive Eating Over Time in Anorexia, Finds New Study

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A recent study has provided new insights into how state mindfulness relates to restrictive eating disorder (ED) behaviours among individuals with anorexia nervosa and atypical anorexia nervosa. The findings were published in the journal Mindfulness and offers a detailed analysis of the complex interactions between mindfulness facets and ED behaviours.

The primary objective of the study was to explore the relationships between state mindfulness—specifically present-moment awareness, acceptance, and non-judgement – and restrictive ED behaviours. Mindfulness has been proposed as a potential intervention for eating disorders, but the specific dynamics between state mindfulness and ED behaviors in individuals with anorexia nervosa spectrum disorders had not been thoroughly examined until now.

The study involved 18 participants diagnosed with anorexia nervosa or atypical anorexia nervosa, who provided a substantial dataset through four daily ecological momentary assessments (EMAs) over a 14-day period. Each participant contributed an average of 784 data points, totaling 14,112 data points for the entire study. These assessments measured various ED behaviors alongside mindfulness variables such as non-judgement, acceptance, and present-moment awareness.

At the group level, the study found that present-moment awareness and acceptance have significant associations with ED behaviors. Present-moment awareness was negatively associated with eating small meals but positively associated with avoiding foods due to anxiety. This suggests that while being aware of the present moment might reduce the likelihood of consuming small, inadequate meals, it could also heighten anxiety-related food avoidance.

Acceptance showed a positive association with eating small meals contemporaneously and a negative predictive relationship with restriction over time. These findings suggest that acceptance might encourage more frequent but smaller meals while reducing restrictive eating behaviors in the long term.

The study also delved into idiographic or individual-level analyses, revealing substantial heterogeneity in how mindfulness facets relate to ED behaviors across different individuals. For instance, in individual models, non-judgement was negatively associated with following eating rules and avoiding foods due to anxiety. Acceptance predicted less restrictive behavior prospectively for some individuals but showed varied associations across different participants.

This high variability underscores the need for personalized assessments and interventions. Individual differences in the relationships between mindfulness and ED behaviors suggest that tailored mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs) could be more effective than one-size-fits-all approaches.

The study’s findings have significant implications for developing personalized MBIs for individuals with anorexia nervosa spectrum disorders. By understanding the specific mindfulness facets that are most beneficial for each individual, clinicians can tailor interventions to target those areas effectively. For example, increasing present-moment awareness might be more beneficial for individuals who tend to eat small meals, while fostering non-judgment and acceptance could help those who struggle with restrictive eating behaviors and anxiety around food.

The study highlights the potential for mindfulness to play a dual role in ED treatment. While mindfulness can bring greater awareness to distressing thoughts and sensations, which might initially increase anxiety-related behaviours, it also has the potential to reduce restrictive eating behaviours in the long term by fostering a nonjudgmental and accepting attitude towards these experiences.

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