fpsyg-09-01418 September 7, 2018 Time: 16:20 # 1
HYPOTHESIS AND THEORY
published: 10 September 2018
University of Pennsylvania,
City, University of London,
Monash University, Australia
Julia M. Hormes,
University at Albany, United States
Judson A. Brewer
This article was submitted to
a section of the journal
Frontiers in Psychology
Received: 29 January 2018
Accepted: 20 July 2018
Published: 10 September 2018
Brewer JA, Ruf A, Beccia AL,
Essien GI, Finn LM, van Lutterveld R
and Mason AE (2018) Can
Mindfulness Address Maladaptive
Eating Behaviors? Why Traditional
Diet Plans Fail and How New
Mechanistic Insights May Lead
to Novel Interventions.
Front. Psychol. 9:1418.
Can Mindfulness Address
Maladaptive Eating Behaviors? Why
Traditional Diet Plans Fail and How
New Mechanistic Insights May Lead
to Novel Interventions
Judson A. Brewer1*, Andrea Ruf1, Ariel L. Beccia1,2 , Gloria I. Essien3, Leonard M. Finn4,5 ,
Remko van Lutterveld1and Ashley E. Mason6
1Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Healthcare, and Society, Division of Mindfulness, University of Massachusetts Medical
School, Worcester, MA, United States, 2Department of Quantitative Health Sciences, University of Massachusetts Medical
School, Worcester, MA, United States, 3Contemplative Studies, Brown University, Providence, RI, United States, 4Needham
Wellesley Family Medicine PC, Wellesley, MA, United States, 5Department of Family Medicine and Community Health,
University of Massachusetts Medical School, Worcester, MA, United States, 6Department of Medicine, Osher Center
for Integrative Medicine, University of California, San Francisco, San Francisco, CA, United States
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
Keywords: maladaptive eating behaviors, disordered eating, obesity, operant conditioning, reward, craving,
mindfulness, mindful eating
Why do we eat when we feel stressed, anxious, or depressed? How does food craving play a role
in the formation of eating habits? Can understandings the underlying mechanisms of these eating
patterns explain why dieting fails, and lead to the development of novel and targeted interventions?
In this article, we will address these questions.
Frontiers in Psychology | www.frontiersin.org 1September 2018 | Volume 9 | Article 1418
fpsyg-09-01418 September 7, 2018 Time: 16:20 # 2
Brewer et al. Mindfulness for Maladaptive Eating Behaviors
THE MODERN FOOD ENVIRONMENT
SETS US UP FOR REWARD-RELATED
Food- and weight-related issues are highly prevalent in the
United States. Using 2016 data, the US Centers for Disease
Control estimates the overall prevalence of obesity and
overweight in US adults aged 18 years or older to be 29.6 and
35.2%, respectively (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,
2016). While eating disorders, such as anorexia nervosa and
bulimia nervosa are relatively rare (Smink et al., 2012), sub-
threshold eating disorders are more common (Stice et al., 2009;
Mangweth-Matzek et al., 2014) and disordered eating behaviors
(e.g., binge eating) are prevalent among obese primary care
patients (Chacko et al., 2015). Considering overweight/obesity
and eating disorders as a spectrum, rather than as distinct and
polarized conditions, has been hypothesized as a more eﬀective
approach to their treatment and prevention (Russell-Mayhew
and Grace, 2016).
Empirical support for considering overweight/obesity and
eating as a spectrum comes from recent research into eating
psychology. Historically, two major maladaptive eating styles
have been delineated: restrained eating (deliberate and persistent
food restriction) (Herman and Mack, 1975) and disinhibited
eating (an inability to inhibit eating once started) (Stunkard
and Messick, 1985). Disinhibited eating is further divided into
emotional and external eating, in which the former describes
overeating in response to internal cues (i.e., emotions); while the
latter describes overeating in response to external cues (i.e., seeing
food that looks delicious) (van Strien et al., 1986). However, a
growing body of evidence suggests that the distinctions between
emotional and external eating are not as clear as previously
assumed, and that they may represent a general concept of
concerned and/or uncontrolled eating, characterized by low
perceived self-control and high motivation to eat (Vainik et al.,
2015;Bongers and Jansen, 2016). This is reinforced by recent
ﬁndings indicating that emotional eaters tend to overeat in
general (Bongers et al., 2016) it may be that such individuals
tend to attribute overeating to negative aﬀect (possibly due to
mass media’s emphasis on emotional eating) (Adriaanse et al.,
2016) when in reality, a plethora of cues can inﬂuence eating
behavior, ranging from product placement at grocery stores, to
frank messaging (e.g., “crafted for your craving”), to enticing
commercial advertisements on billboards, television, and social
media (Jansen et al., 2016).
Our modern food environment is replete with cues to both
eat and not eat, as well as easy access to highly palatable
foods (e.g., sugar-laden sweets). Such an environment plays
a signiﬁcant role in biasing control of eating behavior away
from innate, internal processes (e.g., physiological hunger
and satiety signals) to more external, artiﬁcial, or learned
behavioral processes (e.g., seeing pictures of desirable foods).
Continual exposure to such cues can alter our eating behavior
in the short-term by triggering non-homeostatic eating (i.e.,
eating for reasons other than hunger) (Lowe and Butryn,
2007), or encouraging restriction despite physiological hunger
(Polivy and Herman, 2017). While occasional episodes of over-
or undereating should be considered part of “normal” eating
behavior, over time, these cues may tap into our natural reward-
based learning processes to cultivate habits of non-homeostatic
eating and/or encourage recurrent binge-purge cycles in some
populations (Burger et al., 2016). Perhaps unsurprisingly, many
empirical studies have found correlations between habitual
maladaptive eating behaviors and emotional duress, including
depression, anxiety, and psychological stress (Appleton and
McGowan, 2006;Ouwens et al., 2009;Miller-Matero et al., 2014;
van Strien et al., 2016).
Here, we review what is currently known about the initiation
and maintenance of maladaptive eating behaviors (henceforth
referred to as reward-related eating) and how stress and emotions
can amplify and/or stem from such behavior. We then review
how traditional behavioral weight-loss dieting is insuﬃcient in
addressing reward-related eating mechanisms. Finally, we discuss
how treatments that more directly target these mechanisms (with
a focus on mindfulness training), may be promising strategies for
reducing reward-related eating, and therefore its psychological
and metabolic consequences.
MECHANISMS OF REWARD-RELATED
From an evolutionary standpoint, it is adaptive to remember
everything about good sources of food – when, where, and how
to get them. To do this, we rely on one of the most well-
characterized processes of learning: reinforcement or associative
learning (i.e., operant conditioning). This includes both positive
and negative reinforcement: the receipt of a reward or removal
of a noxious stimulus, respectively, that increases the probability
of repeating a behavior in the future (Epstein et al., 2007;
Dayan and Niv, 2008;Singh et al., 2010). Behaviors learned
via positive and negative reinforcement are reinforced by their
consequences (rewards). Once our brains grasp the connection
between a behavior and a reward, we create a powerful emotional
memory that increases the probability of performing reward-
yielding behavior in the future (Skinner, 1963). Put simply, if we
eat a highly palatable food, we feel good, and lay down a memory
that helps us remember under what circumstance we ate it, where
we obtained it, what we liked about it, and so on. This memory
reminds us to perform the same behavior the next time we are
in a similar situation (positive reinforcement). Likewise, if we
eat something that serves to reduce our sadness or anxiety, we
may lay down a memory to eat certain foods to reduce particular
aﬀective states (negative reinforcement) (Figure 1). As such, in
modern day, reward-related learning is still in play when food is
not only plentiful (including a plethora of advertising to point us
to its sources), but is also becoming more and more engineered
to “hijack” the reinforcement learning system. Accordingly (and
ironically), this evolutionarily conserved learning process has
moved from helping us survive, to contributing to increased
obesity-related morbidity and mortality.
Restrained eating may also be governed, in part, by operant
conditioning. Women with eating disorders have been found
Frontiers in Psychology | www.frontiersin.org 2September 2018 | Volume 9 | Article 1418
fpsyg-09-01418 September 7, 2018 Time: 16:20 # 3
Brewer et al. Mindfulness for Maladaptive Eating Behaviors
FIGURE 1 | The habit loop. Development of habitual reward-based eating via positive and negative reinforcement.
to have an increased tendency to seek pleasurable experiences
and avoid negative ones, which may underlie the binge-
purge cycle (Smyth et al., 2007;Eneva et al., 2017). In
regards to non-clinical populations, diet-related food cues (e.g.,
descriptions of “diet-friendly” food or pictures of thin bodies)
tend to reduce food intake among already restrained eaters
(Polivy and Herman, 2017), likely driven by the positive
reinforcement of working toward or even reaching their
body weight goals. Notably, restrained eating is associated
with subsequent disinhibited, emotional, and/or binge eating
(Polivy and Herman, 1985;Ricca et al., 2009;Péneau et al.,
2013), which may be due to increasing the reinforcing value
of food through repeated deprivation (Epstein et al., 2007).
Such ﬁndings highlight the role of operant conditioning in
inﬂuencing eating behavior across the spectrum of food-related
There is evidence to suggest that repeatedly consuming highly
processed foods (e.g., processed foods high in combinations of
sugar and fat, salt and fat, or all three) can alter the brain’s
reward circuitry. Such foods stimulates dopamine release along
the same associative learning pathway as substances of abuse, and
in some studies, this release surpasses that associated with cocaine
use (Rada et al., 2005;Avena et al., 2006, 2008;Epstein et al.,
2007;Lenoir et al., 2007;Stice et al., 2013). Although the concept
of “food addiction” remains controversial, sugar and reﬁned-
carbohydrate consumption may lead to similar neuroadaptations
as drugs of abuse, including craving and withdrawal (Ziauddeen
et al., 2012). Repeatedly overconsuming sugar-laden food can
condition individuals to expect pleasurable responses not only
upon consuming a highly palatable food, but also when observing
stimuli that one associates with the food (e.g., seeing a picture
of ice cream) (Volkow et al., 2008). Such stimuli can activate
learned associations that trigger non-homeostatic eating (Born
et al., 2010;Dallman, 2010;Sinha and Jastreboﬀ, 2013;Epel et al.,
These positively and negatively reinforced learning pathways
provide a useful explanatory model for why, how, and when
people set up habits based on the rewarding experiences of
eating and/or restricting, rather than true physical hunger
(Kaplan and Kaplan, 1957;Schachter et al., 1968;Greeno and
Wing, 1994). The more we engage in these habit loops by
experiencing stress (trigger), eating palatable foods or restricting
our eating (behavior), and receiving temporary relief (feeling
better, being distracted from negative aﬀect, moving toward a
Frontiers in Psychology | www.frontiersin.org 3September 2018 | Volume 9 | Article 1418
fpsyg-09-01418 September 7, 2018 Time: 16:20 # 4
Brewer et al. Mindfulness for Maladaptive Eating Behaviors
goal, avoiding feelings of guilt for having broken one’s dieting
“rules” etc.), the further obscured our ability to recognize the
diﬀerence between homeostatic and non-homeostatic hunger
Given the links between reward-based learning and
maladaptive eating behaviors, it is surprising that to date,
these positively and negatively reinforced habit loops have not
been more explicitly incorporated into treatment paradigms
for obesity and binge eating disorder. Speciﬁc aspects of
the habit loop may provide direct and tangible targets for
researchers and clinicians to develop and implement eﬀective
behavioral interventions that break the cycle of reward-related
eating. As shown in Figure 1, craving is a central downstream
component linking both positive and negative emotions to
eating. Food cravings are most commonly deﬁned as intense
desires or longings to eat a speciﬁc food (Weingarten and
Elston, 1991). Food cravings ﬁt into a food reward framework
as a psychological state of wanting, or appetitive motivation to
seek out a particular food, which is distinct from liking, or the
pleasure one derives from eating a particular food (Berridge,
2009). Psychological (rather than physical) deprivation is the
more likely primary driver of food cravings (Polivy et al., 2005).
Accordingly, theoretical frameworks, such as the Elaborated
Intrusion (EI) Theory of Desires postulate that the conscious
aspects of desire for a particular substance (i.e., a gracing) falls
along a continuum of appetitive thought (May et al., 2012).
Applied to food and eating, the EI Theory of Desire posits
that cues to eat, be they cognitive, emotional, or physiological,
can trigger seemingly spontaneous thoughts of images. These
thoughts or images then motivate further elaboration and
movement toward the desired food. Recent data map well onto
this framework; for example studies show that food cravings
predict non-homeostatic eating (Willner et al., 1998;Christensen
and Pettijohn, 2001) and binge-eating (Joyner et al., 2015),
and are associated with weight-preoccupation (Lafay et al.,
WILLPOWER-BASED DIETING TO
REDUCE REWARD-RELATED EATING:
A LONG-TERM WEIGHT-LOSS
The standard clinical approach to weight-related medical issues
is weight-loss, most commonly through dietary restriction.
However, data have repeatedly demonstrated that traditional
diet programs yield variable short-term results, and minimal
diﬀerences in the long-term (Franz et al., 2007). For example,
a recent systematic review and meta-analysis of 45 trials that
examined the eﬀects of long-term approaches for weight-loss
maintenance found little evidence for the eﬃcacy of lifestyle
interventions (i.e., dieting) in maintaining weight-loss beyond
24 months (Dombrowski et al., 2014). As such, the outcomes
of diet programs are notoriously poor; up to 60% of individuals
regain all or more of the weight that was lost through dieting
(Mann et al., 2007).
By deﬁnition, “eﬀective” dieting requires vigilant self-
regulation in order to make both short- and long-term decisions
about food (Wing and Hill, 2001;DelParigi et al., 2007). However,
the idea that one simply needs more willpower (where willpower
is deﬁned as the ability to resist shorter-term pleasures so as
to achieve longer-term goals) to succeed on a diet may be
suboptimal. Goal conﬂict theory suggests that the friction created
by the desire to consume palatable foods and yet achieve long-
term weight-loss goals, combined with incessant cues to eat in
the modern food environment, sets the stage for self-regulation
failures, leading to disinhibited reward-related eating (Hays
and Roberts, 2008;Stroebe, 2008). As related to reward-based
learning, willpower-based dieting strategies traditionally target
the avoidance of cues, subversion of craving, and/or substitution
strategies that treat “around” the core habit loop, rather than
dismantling the loop itself. For example, one such method termed
“attentional deployment” prescribes that individuals literally
turn and focus their attention away from the craved food
(Giuliani and Berkman, 2015). Although attentional deployment
may eﬀectively defer eating the food in that moment, it may
not actually eliminate the craving itself, thereby allowing the
craving to return when one’s willpower is depleted (Giuliani and
Berkman, 2015). Importantly, many of these strategies depend on
expending eﬀort in the service of reducing craving-related eating,
which to diﬀering extents requires individuals’ willpower.
Factors that hamper willpower include cognitive exertion
following demanding tasks (Vohs and Heatherton, 2000),
attentional distraction, especially of the emotion-laden
variety (Bechara, 2005;Heatherton and Wagner, 2011), and
psychological stress (Arnsten, 2009). Furthermore, the presence
of hunger, anger, loneliness, or/and tiredness (HALT) seems
to promote a vulnerable state for self-regulatory failure (Vohs
et al., 2005;Mead et al., 2009;Arnsten, 2015). Collectively, these
ﬁndings suggest that maladaptive eating behaviors are not simply
“food” problems, and thus interventions that treat them as such
may exacerbate the issue. For instance, some interventions have
sought to bolster self-regulatory resources by requiring new
behaviors, such as daily self-weighing (e.g., Wing et al., 2006)
so as to reduce decision-making. A major limitation of these
interventions is that these attempts at automation often require
too much eﬀort to sustain (and, in many cases, even initiate) –
especially when they can feel punitive in nature (ironically, which
can induce negative aﬀect). Other researchers have developed
“small changes” or “behavioral nudge” interventions that focus
on reducing triggers in the environment that tax willpower (Hill,
2009). Although these environmental strategies show promise
(e.g., Eldridge et al., 2016), it is impossible to manipulate or
otherwise control the environments everywhere one goes.
Perhaps most importantly, construing reward-related
eating as a lack of willpower ignores the biology underlying
restriction and cultural context in which such behaviors develop.
Mechanistically, recent research suggests that weight-loss
through dietary restriction is accompanied by hormonal and
metabolic adaptations that promote weight regain through
increased appetite (MacLean et al., 2011;Fothergill et al.,
2016). In addition to these biological inﬂuences is a paradoxical
combination of an obesogenic food environment situated within
Frontiers in Psychology | www.frontiersin.org 4September 2018 | Volume 9 | Article 1418
fpsyg-09-01418 September 7, 2018 Time: 16:20 # 5
Brewer et al. Mindfulness for Maladaptive Eating Behaviors
a culture that emphasizes thinness for both health and esthetic
purposes. Such an environment has been found to produce a
conﬂicting set of social norms surrounding food and weight
among women (Whale et al., 2014), which may contribute to,
and reinforce, maladaptive eating behaviors.
Thus, interventions predicated on external methods
(e.g., changing our environment) or on cognitive methods
(e.g., willpower) that do not directly target the habit loop (e.g.,
prescribing restrictive behaviors) have not resulted in reduced
reward-related eating, and for some, may be counterproductive.
As the mechanisms of reward-related eating are now becoming
clearer, can these insights inform currently employed diet
and behavior change interventions? Investigating intervention
modalities that directly target key elements of the habit loop (e.g.,
craving), as compared to attempting to use cognitive strategies
to change them or treat around them (e.g., substitution), may
inform the development of more eﬀective ways to sustainably
reduce reward-related eating.
ADDRESSING CRAVING FROM THE
INSIDE OUT: THE ROLE OF
We have previously found that with habitual behaviors, such
as smoking, craving has been shown to be a critical link
of the habit loop (Brewer et al., 2013b;Elwaﬁ et al., 2013).
Similar to how craving palatable food can lead to non-
homeostatic eating, craving for cigarettes signiﬁcantly predicts
smoking (Brewer et al., 2011;DiFranza, 2016). Interestingly,
interventions such as mindfulness training have historical roots
in targeting and managing craving itself, rather than treating
“around it” through the use of substitute or avoidance strategies
as described above, suggesting a theoretical overlap between
ancient and modern mechanisms (Bhikkhu, 2013;Brewer et al.,
2013b). Mindfulness can be deﬁned as the awareness that
arises when paying attention in the present moment, on
purpose and non-judgmentally (Kabat-Zinn, 2006). Another
common deﬁnition of mindfulness used in research includes two
(1) Self-regulation of attention so that it is maintained on
immediate experience, thereby allowing for increased
recognition of mental events in the present moment,
and (2) Adopting a particular orientation toward one’s
experiences in the present moment, characterized by
curiosity, openness, and acceptance (Bishop et al., 2004). In
other words, “being mindful” means allowing experiences
to unfold with curiosity rather than with attempts at
control, which may enable healthier management of issues
relating to aﬀect-driven cravings (Brewer and Pbert, 2015).
We have found that mindfulness training directly targets
reward-based habit loops (Brewer et al., 2013b). For example,
smokers who underwent mindfulness training quit at ﬁve
times the rate of smokers who received the American Lung
Association’s Freedom from Smoking program, which is based
in cognitive strategies (Brewer et al., 2011), likely due to a
decoupling of the association between craving and smoking
(Elwaﬁ et al., 2013). In other words, individuals learned to pay
attention to and “be with” their cravings instead of compulsively
acting on them or painfully struggling with them (Brewer and
Pbert, 2015;Brewer, 2018). Importantly, this is fundamentally
diﬀerent than other cognitive techniques targeting cravings.
Instead of changing, suppressing, resisting, or avoiding cravings,
mindfulness helps individuals accept and paradoxically move
closer to the thoughts, emotions, and body sensations that make
up cravings. This enables individuals to discover how cravings are
driving them to act, and in doing so, learn to tap into the very
same reward-based learning system to gain mastery over them.
Herein, mindfulness may lead to reductions in cravings over time
through extinction, rather than suppression (Tapper, 2018).
Next-Generation Mindfulness Training
for Reward-Related Eating
Mindfulness training has been shown to reduce maladaptive
eating behaviors (e.g., emotional eating, external eating, binge
eating, reactivity to food cravings, restrained eating, and mindless
eating) across a majority of studies (Godsey, 2013;Katterman
et al., 2014;O’Reilly et al., 2014;Godfrey et al., 2015). How might
mindfulness training help individuals improve their relationship
with eating? Might it target the habit loop in a similar manner to
what has been shown with breaking habits, such as smoking? As
craving may be a core mechanistic link in reward-based learning,
there may be ways to speciﬁcally target mindfulness training to
the actual mechanisms driving eating.
Below, we outline three broad steps that individuals take
as they learn to be mindful of their eating habits (increasing
awareness, evaluating outcomes, and making embodied choices),
and provide real-world examples from participants in a newly
developed digitally delivered mindful eating program that
speciﬁcally employs these as a way to target reward-based eating
Step 1: Awareness – We Cannot Change What We
We hypothesize that the ﬁrst step in changing habitual eating
behavior is becoming aware of such behaviors and their
triggers. Maladaptive eating patterns are often learned and
reinforced for years. For example, children may learn to pair
food with emotional rewards (e.g., parental approval) (Farrow
et al., 2015), and 63% of children aged 5–13 have reported
eating in response to mood (Shapiro et al., 2007). Thus,
reward-related eating can become ingrained early in life. As
such, many individuals report that they do not notice that
they are out of touch with their hunger and satiety signals
until they are experiencing consequences, such as the physical
eﬀects of feeling overly full or extreme hunger. A clear
recognition of elements within the habit loop (i.e., triggers
and behaviors) can help people to begin working with them,
rather than continuing to reinforce the habitual maladaptive
behaviors. This recognition is one of the core principles of
many mindful eating programs that are delivered in person
(Rossy, 2016). Table 1 presents participants’ self-reports about
Frontiers in Psychology | www.frontiersin.org 5September 2018 | Volume 9 | Article 1418
fpsyg-09-01418 September 7, 2018 Time: 16:20 # 6
Brewer et al. Mindfulness for Maladaptive Eating Behaviors
TABLE 1 | Examples of experiences with each of the three steps of the mindful eating model, provided from program participants within the smartphone application
1. Awareness “I gained insight today relating to the correlation between my exercise routine and my eating patterns”.
“I am really seeing how the habit loop has driven my life with food”.
“I just realized how my internalized anger, resentment, and self-deprecation are expressed in my eating”.
“It has been so helpful to gradually learn to return again and again and again without criticizing myself. I’m beginning to see how
that same practice might help me with my eating”.
2. Evaluating outcomes “I’m ﬁnding that I’m listening to my body, noticing how my feelings are sensations in my body. I’m also tasting my food, and learning
what taste [sic] good and doesn’t. I can already feel the habit loops leading to eating being interrupted. I don’t ﬁght with myself all
day long, either winning the food battle or losing it”.
“I got beyond thoughts of the rewards alone of my craving and reﬂected on the consequences. Once it hit me that satisfying my
craving wouldn’t fulﬁll my needs, wouldn’t solve the problem and would in fact only make me feel worse, I began looking at it as less
desirable an action”.
“A shift is happening; I’m choosing more healthy foods. The sugary things are less attractive. Satiety is now coming into focus”.
“Had a piece of chocolate and ate it mindfully, what a difference! Normally it is just eaten quickly and in reality not enjoyed. As it
turned out, the one piece was sufﬁcient, that’s normally not the case. Small win”.
3. Unforced, embodied choice “I wasn’t going to make myself try to eat less but just showing up and being as present with the experience as I could be. That
helped a lot and then I ordered my food and really tried to be there and see what I was eating and feeling and experiencing”.
“I am feeling like I can tune into what my body needs more now my emotions around food are more settled. The protein powder
with berries for breakfast was ﬁlling and set me up for the day. I tuned in to my body in the late afternoon and just wanted a banana
and a few nuts – I felt like these carbs were ok and went with my intuition”.
“It’s a birthday party. Food all over the place. Pizza, salads, butter, and caramel cupcakes. With the powerful artillery of mindfulness
and RAIN, I managed to enjoy a little bit of pizza, satisfactory portions of healthy salads and half a cupcake, shared with my
daughter. I felt in control for the ﬁrst time, I was Superman!”
their experiences while gaining awareness, illustrating how
this newfound awareness often helps people eat when they
are physiologically hungry and not reinforce reward-related
Step 2: Evaluating Outcomes – Clearly Seeing the
True ‘Rewards’ of Our Habits
The second step in changing habitual eating is a clear recognition
of the actual results (rewards) that one is receiving from the
behavior. Speciﬁcally, these are the direct physical sensations
and emotional eﬀects of eating beyond satiety or when triggered
in the absence of hunger. This step taps directly into and
utilizes reward-based learning itself. Early theories underlying
mindfulness training suggest that such clear and unbiased
recognition is a critical step for lasting habit change (Brewer
et al., 2013a). By evaluating results or outcomes, we mean an
accurate assessment of everything that results from an episode
of reward-related eating, rather than selectively paying attention
to only certain aspects of the experience. For example, if one
eats to numb themselves from painful feelings and only attends
to the temporary relief, they may not remember accompanying
physical feelings, such as being uncomfortably full and lethargic,
or resultant emotional aspects of the experience, such as feelings
Non-judgmental awareness of the entire experience provides
an opportunity to “add up” all of the elements resulting
in a more accurate calculation of the sum total of the
reward. Outcome evaluation begins a process of disenchantment
with habitual behaviors, as a thorough assessment of the
rewards reveals that they are not as rewarding as once
perceived. Importantly, this evaluation is not an intellectual
interrogation (e.g., “I shouldn’t have eaten this because I will
gain weight”), but rather an exploration of one’s immediate
experience (e.g., “wow, I feel sick, [and guilty]”). Linking
action to experiential outcome is critical for updating the
neural reward-value of one’s behavior in the orbitofrontal
cortex (Kringelbach, 2005), tapping into the very reward-based
learning process that set up the unhealthy behavior in the ﬁrst
place, rather than relying on will-power or cognitive control
regions of the brain (e.g., lateral prefrontal cortex), which are
susceptible to failure in times of stress and hunger (Arnsten,
This same process can be employed when adopting new eating
behaviors, allowing one to bring awareness to the experience
so as to appreciate the physical and psychological eﬀects of
eating when truly hungry (while also enjoying the experience)
and stopping when full. In pilot studies of brief mindfulness
interventions, hints of carryover eﬀects have even been seen
in which individuals who eat a meal mindfully consume 45%
fewer calories while snacking 2 h later (Seguias and Tapper,
2018), likely due to a heightened ability to sense internal
cues relating to hunger and satiety. Disenchantment with
prior maladaptive eating behaviors combined with the learning
of mindful eating fosters the development of an embodied
wisdom-based eating framework (described in detail below),
rather than a cognitive, knowledge-based one. This learning
process may be critical for long-term and sustainable behavior
change, as it draws from one’s own experiences, unlike standard
cognitive based weight-control strategies. Illustrative examples
of participants’ experiences with this process are presented in
Step 3: Unforced Freedom of Choice – Supporting
The third step in changing habitual eating is developing the
ability to make unforced, embodied choices about food. The
Frontiers in Psychology | www.frontiersin.org 6September 2018 | Volume 9 | Article 1418
fpsyg-09-01418 September 7, 2018 Time: 16:20 # 7
Brewer et al. Mindfulness for Maladaptive Eating Behaviors
framework and speciﬁc language for this step was derived from
qualitative data from focus group discussions with participants
of the mindful eating program, based on their direct experience
(Beccia et al., in preparation). Based on our ﬁndings, step
three was deﬁned as unforced freedom of choice, emerging
from embodied awareness, in the present moment. In other
words, an awareness of the links between behavior and outcome
cultivates a heightened ability to make “intuitive” choices that
support self-care in a way that feels eﬀortless, rather than forced.
The intuitive sense emerges directly from the disenchantment
learned in step two, such that one consciously or unconsciously
compares the relative rewards from these previous actions
to guide current behavior. Notably, there have been calls to
implement interventions that support self-care and healthy
lifestyles, particularly ones that are patient-centered, within
primary care settings (Greaves and Campbell, 2007); this model
of mindful eating represents such an intervention, as it helps
individuals move away from the “shame and blame” thinking that
comes with cognitively based dieting (“I should eat X,” I shouldn’t
have eaten Y,” etc.), and into more self-compassionate ways of
This is critical, as many individuals spin out into cycles
of shame and blame when stepping onto the scale or looking
in the mirror, which ironically often triggers “eating-to-cope”
habit loops. Self-compassion has been proposed to amplify
the eﬀectiveness of mindfulness, and preliminary evidence
suggests that self-compassion promotes intuitive eating and other
positive health behaviors (Mantzios and Wilson, 2014, 2015).
Being compassionate toward oneself builds on the exploration
of the results of self-judgment as part of step two (e.g.,
seeing that self-ﬂagellation or guilt does not feel good), and
importantly, can be deliberately fostered. For example, self-
compassion is formally taught in our mindful eating program
through loving-kindness practices directed toward oneself, and
is speciﬁcally framed in the context of the habit loop as
an alternate to emotional eating. In this way, individuals
can contrast the diﬀerential results from compassion versus
self-judgment. Over time, as the relative rewards of self-
compassion become more evident and accessible, this type
of self-care becomes more “intuitive,” driven by the updating
of its reward value in the orbitofrontal cortex (as noted
Importantly, and in line with some of the earliest reports
of mindfulness training (Kabat-Zinn, 1982), mindfulness may
constitute a diﬀerent form of self-regulation than the self-
control that comes with cognitive or deliberate eﬀort – one
that is fostered by an “eﬀortless awareness” (Friese et al.,
2012;Garrison et al., 2013;van Lutterveld et al., 2017). While
attempting to use cognitive control to resist, ﬁght, or distract
oneself from the experience of craving precludes changing
a problematic habit loop (Vohs and Heatherton, 2000), an
unforced, curiosity-based observation of its elements and their
time-course may decrease the likelihood of falling back on
previously learned behaviors (including self-judgment). We have
found with mindful eating as well as smoking cessation programs
that using in-the-moment exercises, such as RAIN (Recognize
the craving, Allow it to exist, Investigate what it feels like
in the body, Note the associated physical sensations from
moment-to-moment) gives pragmatic tools for observing and
even co-existing with cravings rather than using cognitively
based suppression or avoidance techniques (Elwaﬁ et al., 2013).
This open investigation supports the close investigation of what
physical sensations make up cravings, bringing one into her
or his own experience, which is often experienced as pleasant
(or less unpleasant) compared to being caught in the grip of a
In sum, through this three-step progression, mindfulness
training can directly target core aspects of reward-based learning,
and even tap into this very process to update the reward-
value of habitual eating behaviors. Such training improves one’s
relationship with food by facilitating present moment awareness
of one’s direct experience, and may result in lasting behavior
Digital Therapeutic Delivery of Mindfulness Training
Based on the reward-based learning model described above, we
developed a mindful eating program that can be delivered via
smartphone with online community support [described in detail
in Mason et al. (2017)]. Using short daily trainings delivered via
video, audio, and animations, as well as in-the-moment exercises,
this program promotes training in mindfulness skills within the
actual environment in which one develops and reinforces habitual
eating patterns. This intervention ﬁrst empowers individuals to
understand how they form habitual eating patterns (i.e., the
habit loop) and to clearly see what “rewards” they are receiving
from their behavior. Similar to our app-based training for
smoking cessation (Garrison et al., 2015), this mindful eating
intervention teaches individuals mindfulness tools in a step-by-
step manner to help them change their habitual responses to
food cravings and realign eating with physical hunger and satiety
Some of the original in-person mindful eating programs
begin with an emphasis on mindfulness meditation practices
as a way to foster the development of non-judgmental
awareness of automatic patterns related to eating (e.g.,
Kristeller and Wolever, 2011). Although those programs
and ours are theoretically and conceptually aligned, data
from our early studies with smoking cessation suggested
that short, informal, in-the-moment mindfulness practices
(e.g., RAIN) yielded greater decoupling of craving and
behavior than more formal meditation practices (e.g., sitting
meditation) (Elwaﬁ et al., 2013). Accordingly, we speciﬁcally
developed the program to emphasize short, momentary
mindfulness practices directly related to the habit loop in one’s
everyday life that are subsequently supported by more formal
meditation practices as awareness and mindfulness skills are
These principles are based on the same tools we have shown
to moderate the decoupling of craving and smoking behavior in
previous clinical trials focused on craving-related habits (Elwaﬁ
et al., 2013), and are yielding early empirical evidence for
decoupling craving and eating. For example, we administered
our 28-day smartphone-delivered mindful eating program to
104 overweight or obese women, and found that the women
Frontiers in Psychology | www.frontiersin.org 7September 2018 | Volume 9 | Article 1418
fpsyg-09-01418 September 7, 2018 Time: 16:20 # 8
Brewer et al. Mindfulness for Maladaptive Eating Behaviors
experienced signiﬁcant reductions in both craving-related eating
(40% reduction, p<0.001) and overeating behavior (e.g., 36%
reduction in eating to cope with negative emotions, p<0.001)
(Mason et al., 2017).
The prevalence and consequences of obesity are frequently
highlighted; lesser discussed are maladaptive eating behaviors,
such as restrained, emotional, and binge eating that can have
serious physical and psychological eﬀects. While the standard
approach to food- and weight-related health and disease issues
is dietary restriction to achieve weight-loss, we contend that
such an approach is inadequate at best and counterproductive
at worst. There is a growing body of evidence suggesting
that it is possible to improve a range of health outcomes
(including metabolic risk factors, heart disease, hypertension,
depression etc.) independent of weight-loss, likely through
enhancing behaviors relating to diet and activity (Bacon and
Aphramor, 2011;Schaefer and Magnuson, 2014;Tylka et al.,
2014;Van Dyke and Drinkwater, 2014). Given the well-
established challenges in maintaining long-term weight-loss
(Wing and Phelan, 2005;Dombrowski et al., 2014), as well
as the social consequences of emphasizing weight, including
prevalent weight-based discrimination (Spahlholz et al., 2016)
and the normalization of body image discontent (Tantleﬀ-Dunn
et al., 2011), adopting strategies to improve eating behaviors
that mitigate the issues inherent in dietary restriction should be
a priority to healthcare providers.
In this article, we have provided the theoretical framework
and early empirical evidence for an intervention that meets
these criteria. Mindful awareness of habitual, maladaptive eating
behaviors may help people to improve their relationships
with food. When people have a clear window through
which to view how habit loops are developed (e.g., eating
when stressed) and maintained (e.g., reward-based learning),
engaging in interventions that directly disrupt these loops
(such as the mindful eating program we have described) can
be an empowering process. That is, honing interventions to
directly focus on core elements of the habit loop, rather than
developing behavioral workarounds, may aﬀect more lasting
Additionally, the recalibration of rewards that results from
mindfulness training may provide a novel way to reframe
the “diet” process. Focusing on intrinsic rewards, deﬁned as
those coming from our own experience of being mindfully
engaged with a process (e.g., savoring food, noticing the rewards
of healthy eating, and stopping when full), may be more
eﬀective than focusing on extrinsic rewards (e.g., feeling a
sugar rush after eating a cupcake), which are ﬂeeting and
therefore feed the habitual process through wanting more.
In the context of mindfulness training, the freedom that
results from disentangling oneself from the demands of old
habits and cravings opens a doorway to direct one’s energies
to more fruitful pursuits, including simply savoring life’s
moments (eating and otherwise). A mindfulness practice is
itself reinforcing and may directly align with values and goals
around healthy eating, with rewards that encourage further
practice and development of insight which sustains long-
term improvements in both mindfulness and healthy lifestyle
As with any paradigm shift, critical questions remain. Namely,
does the process of moving from extrinsic to intrinsic reward
through mindfulness lead to long-term changes, independent of
other lifestyle interventions (such as physical activity instruction
or nutrition education)? At what point is it optimal to pair
mindfulness training with an additional intervention and for
whom? We would predict that mindfulness training in itself
may aﬀord reductions in reward-related eating, with consequent
improvements in overall eating behavior. We also predict that it
may be augmented when paired with nutritional strategies, yet
that the timing of the pairing would be critical; bringing too
many modalities together at once may overwhelm individuals
rather than support them. In light of the considerable racial,
ethnic, gender, and socioeconomic disparities across the range
of food- and weight-related issues (e.g., Marques et al., 2011;
Diggins et al., 2015;Krueger and Reither, 2015;Calzo et al.,
2017), a critical next step is understanding how to disseminate
mindfulness training to individuals from diverse backgrounds.
Also, are mobile or web-based programs eﬀective means of
program implementation, or does the addition of in-person
support (e.g., weekly facilitator led drop-in support groups)
increase eﬀectiveness? Future studies should seek to answer
these questions in order to continue forward progress in
the ﬁeld of mindfulness and its eﬀects on reward-related
JB and AM contributed conception and design of the manuscript.
JB wrote the ﬁrst draft of the manuscript. AR, AB, GE, RvL, and
AM wrote sections of the manuscript. All authors contributed to
manuscript revision, read and approved the submitted version.
This publication was supported by the National Center
for Advancing Translational Sciences, National Institutes of
Health, through UCSF-CTSI grant number UL1 TR000004
and also be the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute
(NHLBI) grant number K23HL133442-01 to AM, and the
National Cancer Institute (NCI) grant number 1R21CA184254
to JB. Its contents are solely the responsibility of the
authors and do not necessarily represent the oﬃcial views of
We would like to thank Patricia Holland for her careful review
and feedback on this manuscript.
Frontiers in Psychology | www.frontiersin.org 8September 2018 | Volume 9 | Article 1418
fpsyg-09-01418 September 7, 2018 Time: 16:20 # 9
Brewer et al. Mindfulness for Maladaptive Eating Behaviors
Adriaanse, M. A., Prinsen, S., de Witt Huberts, J. C., de Ridder, D. T. D., and
Evers, C. (2016). “I Ate Too Much So I Must Have Been Sad”: emotions as a
confabulated reason for overeating. Appetite 103, 318–323. doi: 10.1016/j.appet.
Appleton, K. M., and McGowan, L. (2006). The relationship between restrained
eating and poor psychological health is moderated by pleasure normally
associated with eating. Eat. Behav. 7, 342–347. doi: 10.1016/j.eatbeh.2005.
Arnsten, A. F. T. (2009). Stress signalling pathways that impair prefrontal
cortex structure and function. Nat. Rev. Neurosci. 10, 410–422. doi: 10.1038/
Arnsten, A. F. T. (2015). Stress weakens prefrontal networks: molecular insults to
higher cognition. Nat. Neurosci. 18, 1376–1385. doi: 10.1038/nn.4087
Avena, N. M., Rada, P., and Hoebel, B. G. (2006). Sugar bingeing in rats. Curr.
Protoc. Neurosci. 36, 9.23C.1–9.23C.6. doi: 10.1002/0471142301.ns0923cs36
Avena, N. M., Rada, P., and Hoebel, B. G. (2008). Evidence for sugar addiction:
behavioral and neurochemical eﬀects of intermittent, excessive sugar intake.
Neurosci. Biobehav. Rev. 32, 20–39. doi: 10.1016/j.neubiorev.2007.04.019
Bacon, L., and Aphramor, L. (2011). Weight science: evaluating the evidence for a
paradigm shift. Nutr. J. 10:9. doi: 10.1186/1475-2891- 10-9
Bechara, A. (2005). Decision making, impulse control and loss of willpower
to resist drugs: a neurocognitive perspective. Nat. Neurosci. 8, 1458–1463.
Berridge, K. C. (2009). “Liking” and “wanting” food rewards: brain substrates and
roles in eating disorders. Physiol. Behav. 97, 537–550. doi: 10.1016/j.physbeh.
Bhikkhu, T. (trans.) (2013). Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta: Setting the Wheel of
Dhamma in Motion (SN: 56.11). Available at: http://www.accesstoinsight.org/
Bishop, S. R., Lau, M., Shapiro, S., Carlson, L., Anderson, N. D., Carmody, J., et al.
(2004). Mindfulness: a proposed operational deﬁnition. Clin. Psychol. Sci. Pract.
11, 230–241. doi: 10.1093/clipsy/bph077
Bongers, P., de Graaﬀ, A., and Jansen, A. (2016). Emotional” does not even start to
cover it: generalization of overeating in emotional eaters. Appetite 96, 611–616.
Bongers, P., and Jansen, A. (2016). Emotional eating is not what you think it is and
emotional eating scales do not measure what you think they measure. Front.
Psychol. 7:1932. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2016.01932
Born, J. M., Lemmens, S. G. T., Rutters, F., Nieuwenhuizen, A. G., Formisano, E.,
Goebel, R., et al. (2010). Acute stress and food-related reward activation in the
brain during food choice during eating in the absence of hunger. Int. J. Obes.
34, 172–181. doi: 10.1038/ijo.2009.221
Brewer, J., and Pbert, L. (2015). Mindfulness: an emerging treatment for smoking
and other addictions? J. Fam. Med. 2:1035. doi: 10.1093/scan/nsr076
Brewer, J. A. (2018). Feeling is believing: the convergence of buddhist theory and
modern scientiﬁc evidence supporting how self is formed and perpetuated
through feeling tone (Vedanâ). Contemp. Buddhism 19, 113–126. doi: 10.1080/
Brewer, J. A., Davis, J. H., and Goldstein, J. (2013a). Why is it so hard
to pay attention, or is it? mindfulness, the factors of awakening and
reward-based learning. Mindfulness 4, 75–80. doi: 10.1007/s12671-012-
Brewer, J. A., Elwaﬁ, H. M., and Davis, J. H. (2013b). Craving to quit: psychological
models and neurobiological mechanisms of mindfulness training as treatment
for addictions. Psychol. Addict. Behav. 27, 366–379. doi: 10.1037/a0028490
Brewer, J. A., Mallik, S., Babuscio, T. A., Nich, C., Johnson, H. E., Deleone,
C. M., et al. (2011). Mindfulness training for smoking cessation: results from
a randomized controlled trial. Drug Alcohol Depend. 119, 72–80. doi: 10.1016/j.
Burger, K. S., Sanders, A. J., and Gilbert, J. R. (2016). Hedonic hunger is related
to increased neural and perceptual responses to cues of palatable food and
motivation to consume: evidence from 3 independent investigations. J. Nutr.
146, 1807–1812. doi: 10.3945/jn.116.231431
Calzo, J. P., Blashill, A. J., Brown, T. A., and Argenal, R. L. (2017). Eating
disorders and disordered weight and shape control behaviors in sexual minority
populations. Curr. Psychiatry Rep. 19:49. doi: 10.1007/s11920-017-0801- y
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2016). Nutrition Physical
Activity and Obesity Data Trends and Maps. Atlanta, GA. Available at:
Chacko, S. A., Chiodi, S. N., and Wee, C. C. (2015). Recognizing disordered eating
in primary care patients with obesity. Prev. Med. 72, 89–94. doi: 10.1016/j.
Christensen, L., and Pettijohn, L. (2001). Mood and carbohydrate cravings.
Appetite 36, 137–145. doi: 10.1006/appe.2001.0390
Dallman, M. F. (2010). Stress-induced obesity and the emotional nervous system.
Trends Endocrinol. Metab. 21, 159–165. doi: 10.1016/j.tem.2009.10.004
Dayan, P., and Niv, Y. (2008). Reinforcement learning: the good, the bad and the
ugly. Curr. Opin. Neurobiol. 18, 185–196. doi: 10.1016/j.conb.2008.08.003
DelParigi, A., Chen, K., Salbe, A. D., Hill, J. O., Wing, R. R., Reiman, E. M.,
et al. (2007). Successful dieters have increased neural activity in cortical areas
involved in the control of behavior. Int. J. Obes. 31, 440–448. doi: 10.1038/sj.ijo.
DiFranza, J. R. (2016). Can tobacco dependence provide insights into other drug
addictions? BMC Psychiatry 16:365. doi: 10.1186/s12888-016-1074-4
Diggins, A., Woods-Giscombe, C., and Waters, S. (2015). The association of
perceived stress, contextualized stress, and emotional eating with body mass
index in college-aged Black women. Eat. Behav. 19, 188–192. doi: 10.1016/j.
Dombrowski, S. U., Knittle, K., Avenell, A., Araújo-Soares, V., and Sniehotta, F. F.
(2014). Long term maintenance of weight loss with non-surgical interventions
in obese adults: systematic review and meta-analyses of randomised controlled
trials. BMJ 348:g2646. doi: 10.1136/bmj.g2646
Eldridge, J. D., Devine, C. M., Wethington, E., Aceves, L., Phillips-Caesar, E.,
Wansink, B., et al. (2016). Environmental inﬂuences on small eating behavior
change to promote weight loss among black and hispanic populations. Appetite
96, 129–137. doi: 10.1016/j.appet.2015.09.011
Elwaﬁ, H. M., Witkiewitz, K., Mallik, S., Thornhill, T. A., and Brewer, J. A. (2013).
Mindfulness training for smoking cessation: moderation of the relationship
between craving and cigarette use. Drug Alcohol Depend. 130, 222–229.
Eneva, K. T., Murray, S., O’Garro-Moore, J., Yiu, A., Alloy, L. B., Avena,N. M., et al.
(2017). Reward and punishment sensitivity and disordered eating behaviors in
men and women. J. Eat. Disord. 5:6. doi: 10.1186/s40337-017-0138-2
Epel, E. S., Tomiyama, A. J., Mason, A. E., Laraia, B. A., Hartman, W., Ready, K.,
et al. (2014). The reward-based eating drive scale: a self-report index of reward-
based eating. PLoS One 9:e101350. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0101350
Epstein, L. H., Leddy, J. J., Temple, J. L., and Faith, M. S. (2007). Food
reinforcement and eating: a multilevel analysis. Psychol. Bull. 133, 884–906.
Farrow, C. V., Haycraft, E., and Blissett, J. M. (2015). Teaching our children when
to eat: how parental feeding practices inform the development of emotional
eating: a longitudinal experimental design. Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 101, 908–913.
Fothergill, E., Guo, J., Howard, L., Kerns, J. C., Knuth, N. D., Brychta, R., et al.
(2016). Persistent metabolic adaptation 6 years after “The Biggest Loser”.
Compet. Obes. 24, 1612–1619. doi: 10.1002/oby.21538
Franz, M. J., VanWormer, J. J., Crain, A. L., Boucher, J. L., Histon, T., Caplan, W.,
et al. (2007). Weight-loss outcomes: a systematic review and meta-analysis of
weight-loss clinical trials with a minimum 1-year follow-up. J. Am. Diet. Assoc.
107, 1755–1767. doi: 10.1016/j.jada.2007.07.017
Friese, M., Messner, C., and Schaﬀner, Y. (2012). Mindfulness meditation
counteracts self-control depletion. Conscious. Cogn. 21, 1016–1022.
Garrison, K. A., Pal, P., Rojiani, R., Dallery, J., O’Malley, S. S., and Brewer,
J. A. (2015). A randomized controlled trial of smartphone-based mindfulness
training for smoking cessation: a study protocol. BMC Psychiatry 15:83.
doi: 10.1186/s12888-015- 0468-z
Garrison, K. A., Santoyo, J. F., Davis, J. H., Thornhill, T. A., Kerr, C. E., and Brewer,
J. A. (2013). Eﬀortless awareness: using real time neurofeedback to investigate
correlates of posterior cingulate cortex activity in meditators’ self-report. Front.
Hum. Neurosci. 7:440. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2013.00440
Giuliani, N. R., and Berkman, E. T. (2015). Craving is an aﬀective state and
its regulation can be understood in terms of the extended process model
Frontiers in Psychology | www.frontiersin.org 9September 2018 | Volume 9 | Article 1418
fpsyg-09-01418 September 7, 2018 Time: 16:20 # 10
Brewer et al. Mindfulness for Maladaptive Eating Behaviors
of emotion regulation. Psychol. Inq. 26, 48–53. doi: 10.1080/1047840X.2015.
Godfrey, K. M., Gallo, L. C., and Afari, N. (2015). Mindfulness-based interventions
for binge eating: a systematic review and meta-analysis. J. Behav. Med. 38,
348–362. doi: 10.1007/s10865-014- 9610-5
Godsey, J. (2013). The role of mindfulness based interventions in the treatment of
obesity and eating disorders: an integrative review. Complement. Ther. Med. 21,
430–490. doi: 10.1016/j.ctim.2013.06.003
Greaves, C. J., and Campbell, J. L. (2007). Supporting self-care in general practice.
Br. J. Gen. Pract. 57, 814–821. doi: 10.3399/096016407782605018
Greeno, C. G., and Wing, R. R. (1994). Stress-induced eating. Psychol. Bull. 115,
444–464. doi: 10.1037/0033-2909.115.3.444
Hays, N. P., and Roberts, S. B. (2008). Aspects of eating behaviors disinhibition
and restraint are related to weight gain and BMI in Women. Obesity 16, 52–58.
Heatherton, T. F., and Wagner, D. D. (2011). Cognitive neuroscience of self-
regulation failure. Trends Cogn. Sci. 15, 132–139. doi: 10.1016/j.tics.2010.
Herman, C. P., and Mack, D. (1975). Restrained and unrestrained eating.
J. Personal. 43, 647–660. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-6494.1975.tb00727.x
Hill, J. O. (2009). Can a small-changes approach help address the obesity epidemic?
a report of the joint task force of the american society for nutrition, institute
of food technologists, and international food information council. Am. J. Clin.
Nutr. 89, 477–484. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.2008.26566
Jansen, A., Schyns, G., Bongers, P., and van den Akker,K. (2016). From lab to clinic:
extinction of cued cravings to reduce overeating. Physiol. Behav. 162, 174–180.
Joyner, M. A., Gearhardt, A. N., and White, M. A. (2015). Food craving as a
mediator between addictive-like eating and problematic eating outcomes. Eat.
Behav. 19, 98–101. doi: 10.1016/j.eatbeh.2015.07.005
Kabat-Zinn, J. (1982). An outpatient program in behavioral medicine for chronic
pain patients based on the practice of mindfulness meditation: theoretical
considerations and preliminary results. Gen. Hosp. Psychiatry 4, 33–47.
doi: 10.1016/0163-8343(82)90026- 3
Kabat-Zinn, J. (2006). Mindfulness-based interventions in context: past, present,
and future. Clin. Psychol. Sci. Pract. 10, 144–156. doi: 10.1093/clipsy.bpg016
Kaplan, H. L., and Kaplan, H. S. (1957). The psychosomatic concept of obesity.
J. Nerv. Ment. Dis. 125, 181–201.
Katterman, S. N., Kleinman, B. M., Hood, M. M., Nackers, L. M., and Corsica,
J. A. (2014). Mindfulness meditation as an intervention for binge eating,
emotional eating, and weight loss: a systematic review. Eat. Behav. 15, 197–204.
Kringelbach, M. L. (2005). The human orbitofrontal cortex: linking reward to
hedonic experience. Nat. Rev. Neurosci. 6, 691–702. doi: 10.1038/nrn1747
Kristeller, J. L., and Wolever, R. Q. (2011). Mindfulness-based eating awareness
training for treating binge eating disorder: the conceptual foundation. Eat.
Disord. 19, 49–61. doi: 10.1080/10640266.2011.533605
Krueger, P. M., and Reither, E. N. (2015). Mind the gap: race/ethnic and
socioeconomic disparities in obesity. Curr. Diab. Rep. 15:95. doi: 10.1007/
Lafay, L., Thomas, F., Mennen, L., Charles, M. A., Eschwege, E., Borys, J. M., et al.
(2001). Gender diﬀerences in the relation between food cravings and mood in
an adult community: results from the Fleurbaix Laventie Ville Santé Study. Int.
J. Eat. Disord. 29, 195–204.
Lenoir, M., Serre, F., Cantin, L., and Ahmed, S. H. (2007). Intense sweetness
surpasses cocaine reward. PLoS One 2:e698. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0000698
Lowe, M. R., and Butryn, M. L. (2007). Hedonic hunger: a new dimension of
appetite? Physiol. Behav. 91, 432–439. doi: 10.1016/j.physbeh.2007.04.006
MacLean, P. S., Bergouignan, A., Cornier, M.-A., and Jackman, M. R. (2011).
Biology’s response to dieting: the impetus for weight regain. Am. J. Physiol.
Regul. Integr. Comp. Physiol. 301, R581–R600. doi: 10.1152/ajpregu.00755.2010
Mangweth-Matzek, B., Hoek, H. W., Rupp, C. I., Lackner-Seifert, K., Frey, N.,
Whitworth, A. B., et al. (2014). Prevalence of eating disorders in middle-aged
women. Int. J. Eat. Disord. 47, 320–324. doi: 10.1002/eat.22232
Mann, T., Tomiyama, A. J., Westling, E., Lew, A.-M., Samuels, B., and Chatman, J.
(2007). Medicare’s search for eﬀective obesity treatments: diets are not the
answer. Am. Psychol. 62, 220–233. doi: 10.1037/0003-066X.62.3.220
Mantzios, M., and Wilson, J. C. (2014). Making concrete construals mindful:
a novel approach for developing mindfulness and self-compassion to assist
weight loss. Psychol. Health 29, 422–441. doi: 10.1080/08870446.2013.863883
Mantzios, M., and Wilson, J. C. (2015). Exploring mindfulness and mindfulness
with self-compassion-centered interventions to assist weight loss: theoretical
considerations and preliminary results of a randomized pilot study. Mindfulness
6, 824–835. doi: 10.1007/s12671-014- 0325-z
Marques, L., Alegria, M., Becker, A. E., Chen, C. N., Fang, A., Chosak, A.,
et al. (2011). Comparative prevalence, correlates of impairment, and service
utilization for eating disorders across us ethnic groups: implications for
reducing ethnic disparities in health care access for eating disorders. Int. J. Eat.
Disord. 44, 412–420. doi: 10.1002/eat.20787
Mason, A. E., Jhaveri, K., Cohn, M., and Brewer, J. A. (2017). Testing a mobile
mindful eating intervention targeting craving-related eating: feasibility and
proof of concept. J. Behav. Med. 41, 160–173. doi: 10.1007/s10865-017-9884- 5
May, J., Andrade, J., Kavanagh, D. J., and Hetherington, M. (2012). Elaborated
intrusion theory: a cognitive-emotional theory of food craving. Curr. Obes. Rep.
1, 114–121. doi: 10.1007/s13679-012- 0010-2
Mead, N. L., Baumeister, R. F., Gino, F., Schweitzer, M. E., and Ariely, D. (2009).
Too tired to tell the truth: self-control resource depletion and dishonesty. J. Exp.
Soc. Psychol. 45, 594–597. doi: 10.1016/j.jesp.2009.02.004
Miller-Matero, L. R., Armstrong, R., McCulloch, K., Hyde-Nolan, M.,
Eshelman, A., and Genaw, J. (2014). To eat or not to eat; is that really
the question? an evaluation of problematic eating behaviors and mental
health among bariatric surgery candidates. Eat. Weight Disord. 19, 377–382.
doi: 10.1007/s40519-014- 0118-3
O’Reilly, G. A., Cook, L., Spruijt-Metz, D., and Black, D. S. (2014). Mindfulness-
based interventions for obesity-related eating behaviours: a literature review.
Obes. Rev. 15, 453–461. doi: 10.1111/obr.12156
Ouwens, M. A., van Strien, T., and van Leeuwe, J. F. J. (2009). Possible pathways
between depression, emotional and external eating. a structural equation model.
Appetite 53, 245–248. doi: 10.1016/j.appet.2009.06.001
Péneau, S., Ménard, E., Méjean, C., Bellisle, F., and Hercberg, S. (2013). Sex and
dieting modify the association between emotional eating and weight status. Am.
J. Clin. Nutr. 97, 1307–1313. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.112.054916
Polivy, J., Coleman, J., and Herman, C. P. (2005). The eﬀect of deprivation on food
cravings and eating behavior in restrained and unrestrained eaters. Int. J. Eat.
Disord. 38, 301–309. doi: 10.1002/eat.20195
Polivy, J., and Herman, C. P. (1985). Dieting and binging. a causal analysis. Am.
Psychol. 40, 193–201. doi: 10.1037/0003-066X.40.2.193
Polivy, J., and Herman, C. P. (2017). Restrained eating and food cues: recent
ﬁndings and conclusions. Curr. Obes. Rep. 6, 79–85. doi: 10.1007/s13679-017-
Rada, P., Avena, N. M., and Hoebel, B. G. (2005). Daily bingeing on sugar
repeatedly releases dopamine in the accumbens shell. Neuroscience 134,
737–744. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroscience.2005.04.043
Ricca, V., Castellini, G., Lo Sauro, C., Ravaldi, C., Lapi, F., Mannucci, E., et al.
(2009). Correlations between binge eating and emotional eating in a sample of
overweight subjects. Appetite 53, 418–421. doi: 10.1016/j.appet.2009.07.008
Rossy, L. (2016). The Mindfulness-Based Eating Solution: Proven Strategies to End
Overeating, Satisfy Your Hunger, and Savor Your Life. Oakland, CA: New
Russell-Mayhew, S., and Grace, A. D. (2016). A call for social justice and best
practices for the integrated prevention of eating disorders and obesity. Eat.
Disord. 24, 54–62. doi: 10.1080/10640266.2015.1113829
Schachter, S., Goldman, R., and Gordon, A. (1968). Eﬀects of fear, food deprivation,
and obesity on eating. J. Pers. Soc. Psychol. 10, 91–97. doi: 10.1037/h0026284
Schaefer, J. T., and Magnuson, A. B. (2014). A review of interventions that promote
eating by internal cues. J. Acad. Nutr. Diet. 114, 734–760. doi: 10.1016/j.jand.
Seguias, L., and Tapper, K. (2018). The eﬀect of mindful eating on subsequent
intake of a high calorie snack. Appetite 121, 93–100. doi: 10.1016/j.appet.2017.
Shapiro, J. R., Woolson, S. L., Hamer, R.M., Kalarchian, M. A., Marcus, M. D., and
Bulik, C. M. (2007). Evaluating binge eating disorder in children: development
of the children’s binge eating disorder scale (C-BEDS). Int. J. Eat. Disord. 40,
82–89. doi: 10.1002/eat.20318
Frontiers in Psychology | www.frontiersin.org 10 September 2018 | Volume 9 | Article 1418
fpsyg-09-01418 September 7, 2018 Time: 16:20 # 11
Brewer et al. Mindfulness for Maladaptive Eating Behaviors
Singh, S. P., Lewis, R. L., Barto, A. G., and Sorg, J. (2010). Intrinsically motivated
reinforcement learning: an evolutionary perspective. IEEE Trans. Auton. Ment.
Dev. 2, 70–82. doi: 10.1109/TAMD.2010.2051031
Sinha, R., and Jastreboﬀ, A. M. (2013). Stress as a common risk factor for obesity
and addiction. Biol. Psychiatry 73, 827–835. doi: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2013.
Skinner, B. F. (1963). Operant behavior. Am. Psychol. 18, 503–515. doi: 10.1037/
Smink, F. R. E., Van Hoeken, D., and Hoek, H. W. (2012). Epidemiology of eating
disorders: incidence, prevalence and mortality rates. Curr. Psychiatry Rep. 14,
406–414. doi: 10.1007/s11920-012- 0282-y
Smyth, J. M., Wonderlich, S. A., Heron, K. E., Sliwinski, M. J., Crosby, R. D.,
Mitchell, J. E., et al. (2007). Daily and momentary mood and stress are
associated with binge eating and vomiting in bulimia nervosa patients in the
natural environment. J. Consult. Clin. Psychol. 75, 629–638. doi: 10.1037/0022-
Spahlholz, J., Baer, N., König, H. H., Riedel-Heller, S. G., and Luck-
Sikorski, C. (2016). Obesity and discrimination: a systematic review and
meta-analysis of observational studies. Obes. Rev. 17, 43–55. doi: 10.1111/obr.
Stice, E., Burger, K. S., and Yokum, S. (2013). Relative ability of fat and sugar tastes
to activate reward, gustatory, and somatosensory regions1-3. Am. J. Clin. Nutr.
98, 1377–1384. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.113.069443
Stice, E., Marti, C. N., Shaw, H., and Jaconis, M. (2009). An 8-year longitudinal
study of the natural history of threshold, subthreshold, and partial eating
disorders from a community sample of adolescents. J. Abnorm. Psychol. 118,
587–597. doi: 10.1037/a0016481
Stroebe, W. (2008). Dieting, Overweight, and Obesity: Self-Regulation in a Food-
Rich Environment. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association,
Stunkard, A. J., and Messick, S. (1985). The three-factor eating questionnaire
to measure dietary restraint, disinhibition and hunger. J. Psychosom. Res. 29,
71–83. doi: 10.1016/0022-3999(85)90010- 8
Tantleﬀ-Dunn, S., Barnes, R. D., and Jessica, G. L. (2011). It’s not just a “Woman
Thing:” the current state of normative discontent. Eat. Disord. 19, 392–402.
Tapper, K. (2018). Mindfulness and craving: eﬀects and mechanisms. Clin. Psychol.
Rev. 59, 101–117. doi: 10.1016/j.cpr.2017.11.003
Tylka, T. L., Annunziato, R. A., Burgard, D., Daníelsdóttir,S., Shuman, E., Davis, C.,
et al. (2014). The weight-inclusive versus weight-normative approach to health:
evaluating the evidence for prioritizing well-being over weight loss. J. Obes.
2014:983495. doi: 10.1155/2014/983495
Vainik, U., Neseliler, S., Konstabel, K., Fellows, L. K., and Dagher, A. (2015). Eating
traits questionnaires as a continuum of a single concept. Uncontrolled eating.
Appetite 90, 229–239. doi: 10.1016/j.appet.2015.03.004
Van Dyke, N., and Drinkwater, E. J. (2014). Relationships between intuitive eating
and health indicators: literature review. Public Health Nutr. 17, 1757–1766.
van Lutterveld, R., Houlihan, S. D., Pal, P., Sacchet, M. D., McFarlane-
Blake, C., Patel, P. R., et al. (2017). Source-space eeg neurofeedback links
subjective experience with brain activity during eﬀortless awareness meditation.
Neuroimage 151, 117–127. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2016.02.047
van Strien, T., Frijters, J. E. R., Bergers, G. P. A., and Defares, P. B. (1986). The dutch
eating behavior questionnaire (DEBQ) for assessment of restrained, emotional,
and external eating behavior. Int. J. Eat. Disord. 5, 295–315.
van Strien, T., Konttinen, H., Homberg, J. R., Engels, R. C. M. E., and Winkens,
L. H. H. (2016). Emotional eating as a mediator between depression and weight
gain. Appetite 100, 216–224. doi: 10.1016/j.appet.2016.02.034
Vohs, K. D., Baumeister, R. F., and Ciarocco, N. J. (2005). Self-regulation and self-
presentation: regulatory resource depletion impairs impression management
and eﬀortful self-presentation depletes regulatory resources. J. Pers. Soc. Psychol.
88, 632–657. doi: 10.1037/0022-35126.96.36.1992
Vohs, K. D., and Heatherton, T. F. (2000). Self-regulatory failure: a resource-
depletion approach. Psychol. Sci. 11, 249–254. doi: 10.1111/1467-9280.00250
Volkow, N. D., Wang, G.-J., Fowler, J. S., and Telang, F. (2008). Overlapping
neuronal circuits in addiction and obesity: evidence of systems pathology.
Philos. Trans. R. Soc. B Biol. Sci. 363, 3191–3200. doi: 10.1098/rstb.2008.0107
Weingarten, H. P., and Elston, D. (1991). Food cravings in a college population.
Appetite 17, 167–175. doi: 10.1016/0195-6663(91)90019-O
Whale, K., Gillison, F. B., and Smith, P. C. (2014). Are you still on that stupid diet?:
women’sexperiences of societal pressure and support regarding weight loss, and
attitudes towards health policy intervention. J. Health Psychol. 19, 1536–1546.
Willner, P., Benton, D., Brown, E., Cheeta, S., Davies, G., Morgan, J., et al. (1998).
Depression” increases “craving” for sweet rewards in animal and human models
of depression and craving. Psychopharmacology 136, 272–283. doi: 10.1007/
Wing, R. R., and Hill, J. O. (2001). Successful weight loss maintenance. Annu. Rev.
Nutr. 21, 323–341.
Wing, R. R., and Phelan, S. (2005). Long-term weight loss maintenance. Am. J. Clin.
Nutr. 82, 222S–225S. doi: 10.1093/ajcn/82.1.222S
Wing, R. R., Tate, D. F., Gorin, A. A., Raynor, H. A., and Fava, J. L. (2006).
A self-regulation program for maintenance of weight loss. N. Engl. J. Med. 355,
1563–1571. doi: 10.1056/NEJMoa061883
Ziauddeen, H., Farooqi, I. S., and Fletcher, P. C. (2012). Obesity and the brain:
how convincing is the addiction model? Nat. Rev. Neurosci. 13, 279–286.
Conﬂict of Interest Statement: JB is the founder of and owns stock in Claritas
MindSciences, the company that developed the mindful eating app (Eat Right
Now). He is also the research lead there. He has not received any payments or
funding from the company for any work related this manuscript.
The remaining authors declare that the research was conducted in the absence of
any commercial or ﬁnancial relationships that could be construed as a potential
conﬂict of interest.
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.
Frontiers in Psychology | www.frontiersin.org 11 September 2018 | Volume 9 | Article 1418