Islamabad-A new study led by Carolyn Dunn, a nutrition specialist at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, evaluated effect of being more mindful about eating in a weight management programme. The study will be presented at European Congress on Obesity to be held in Porto, Portugal.

Dunn and colleagues evaluated effectiveness of mindful eating in an online weight management programme called Eat Smart, Move More, Weigh Less (ESMMWL), developed by NC State University and the NC Division of Public Health.

Although it is preventable, obesity is not an easy problem to solve, as many causes and contributing factors including behaviour, environment and genetic predisposition work together to initiate and maintain the disease, the study states.

Individual behaviour affects diet, amount of physical activity or inactivity and medication use. Environmental factors such as availability of a range of foods, opportunity for physical activity, education and food marketing also have a big impact, the study reveals.

Mindfulness is a type of Buddhist meditation during which a person focuses on his or her present thoughts, feelings and sensations. An important feature of mindfulness is to pay attention without judgement or evaluation - there is no right or wrong thought or feeling, there is only the awareness of what it is right now.

Mindfulness entered the mainstream as a therapeutic practice in 1980s through the work of people such as Jon Kabat-Zinn and his mindfulness-based stress reduction programme at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester, where there is now a centre for mindfulness.

The programme uses an approach to mindful eating where the participant is invited to focus on many facets of dealing and interacting with food, such as paying attention to how it tastes, noticing hunger and fullness cues, and planning mealtimes and snacks.

For their study, which takes the form of a randomised controlled trial, the researchers asked people looking to enrol on the ESMMWL if they would be willing to take part. Of the 80 participants who said yes, 42 were randomly assigned to the intervention group and 38 to the control group.

The results showed that the participants who completed the programme lost more weight than the others who remained in the control group for the duration. The average weight loss in the group that completed the programme was 1.9 kilograms compared with 0.3 kilograms average weight loss in the control group, a result that the researchers describe as ‘statistically significant’.

All participants completed the MEQ, but the before and after differences in the total score and the scores on the subscales were significantly larger in the group that completed the programme than the control group.

“Results suggest that there is a beneficial association between mindful eating and weight loss. The current study contributes to the mindfulness literature as there are very few studies that employed rigorous methodology to examine the effectiveness of an intervention on mindful eating”, the authors of the study remarked. Meanwhile, nutrition experts say some people eat gluten-free food when they do not need to, and they might end up eating less healthy food, too.

Walk into any grocery store across the United States and you’ll find thousands of different products lining the shelves. Yet among the many cans, bags and boxes of food. Many of these products have the words “gluten free” emblazoned across their labels. The food trend is so widespread that the term “gluten free” is now synonymous with healthy, according to nutrition experts.

Andrea Garber, is an associate professor of paediatrics at the University of California San Francisco (UCSF) and the chief nutritionist at the school’s eating disorders programme and childhood obesity programme.

She said that the choice of eating only gluten-free products could be based on perceived health benefits and not out of medical necessity. This could put the habit into what many in her field call the “halo effect.”

The authors said that an overreliance on stocking your kitchen with gluten-free products could pose serious health risks, especially for children. They cited obesity as the number one concern.

“Where nutritional values of gluten-free products do vary significantly from their gluten-containing counterparts, such as having higher levels of saturated fat, labelling needs to clearly indicate this so that patients, parents, and caregivers could make informed decisions,” Dr Sandra Martínez-Barona, fellow lead researcher from the Instituto de Investigación Sanitaria La Fe in Spain, said.

Garber said that the study is a good example of how confusing healthy eating has become. “Many people need gluten-free foods because of disease,” she said, adding, “But if you do not, and you eat gluten free, you might be undermining your own health attempts.”

People who have celiac disease do have legitimate reasons to check food labels.