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Can Mindful Eating Reduce Grazing Behavior in Weight Management Patients?

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Can Mindful Eating Reduce Grazing Behavior in Weight Management Patients?

— By Dawn M. Sweet, Ph.D

Mindful eating can help mitigate grazing behaviors and bring awareness to the needs of patients with obesity.

Bringing awareness to our eating habits is important to reduce or to extinguish non-preferred eating behaviors such as inattentive eating, eating when not hungry, or emotional eating — eating in response to negative feelings.1,2 These behaviors can lead to weight gain and the consumption of unnecessary calories. Being present in the moment and cultivating awareness of the present moment is a key tenet in the practice of mindfulness, which extends to the practice of mindful eating.3 Mindful eating — bringing our non-judgmental attention to our physical and emotional sensations when eating — is a useful strategy in helping us determine whether we are eating because we are hungry or perhaps engaging in mindless eating behaviors.

One mindless eating behavior is grazing, which is characterized as eating small amounts of food in a repetitive and uncontrolled manner.4 Sometimes referred to as “between meal snacking,” grazing is a risky eating behavior relative to maintaining a healthy weight. Snacking between meals is not necessarily problematic, but when the behavior goes unchecked, and its underlying causes are unexplored, it can elevate the negative health risks for patients with obesity.

Understanding the Relationship between Grazing, Self-Compassion, and Mindful Eating

Using a group of 241 undergraduate students — a population whose eating habits are less healthy than the typical adult — researchers explored how grazing, self-compassion, mindfulness, and mindful eating were related.4 As part of the study, participants provided information about their current health, height, weight, and eating disorders. Study participants completed the Self-Compassion Scale, the Five-Facet Mindfulness Questionnaire (short form), Mindfulness Eating Scale, and the Grazing Scale. Results show a significant positive correlation between BMI and grazing; participants with higher BMIs were more likely to graze. There was also a significant negative relationship between BMI and mindful eating; participants with higher BMI were lower in mindful eating. A significant negative relationship was also observed with self-compassion, mindfulness, and mindful eating. The relationships between these variables suggest further investigation is warranted, and that interventions may be efficacious.

The findings from this research suggest that mindfulness, self-compassion, and mindful eating interventions could have a positive effect on lowering BMI and decreasing grazing behaviors. Non-judgment, as a concept, was represented in all the scales used. Prior research has shown that using interventions that target non-judgement5 have helped with weight management. Health care professionals can work with their patients’ health care team to locate mindfulness programs that include a component on mindful eating or partner with colleagues from the field of psychology to develop program designed to help patients with obesity identify problematic eating behaviors that will ultimately mitigate the risks associated with life at an unhealthy weight.

Mindful Eating as Part of Clinical Practice

Diet and exercise have a proven track record for weight loss. Expanding a clinical practice to include integrative approaches — or complementary approaches — can facilitate the treatment of the “whole patient” by attending to physical and psychological health needs. The research is clear on the benefits of a mindfulness-based intervention such as mindful eating: it can promote behavior change and lead to a healthier life.1

Certainly, a mindful-eating intervention cannot and will not ever replace other approaches such as diet and exercise. However, a mindful eating intervention, as part of a weight loss program that includes supervision — such as a Very Low Calorie Diet (VLCD) — can optimize outcomes and help patients live a healthier lifestyle. Health care teams should consider working with the patients with obesity to include mindful eating as part of supervised weight management program and a strategy to mitigate unhealthy eating habits.


  1. Mindfulness, eating behaviours, and obesity: a review and reflection on current findings
  2. Emotional eating and obesity in adults: The role of depression, sleep and genes
  3. Mindful eating and its relationship with body mass index, binge eating, anxiety, and negative affect
  4. How does grazing relate to body mass index, self-compassion, mindfulness and mindful eating in a student population
  5. The role of negative cognition, intolerance of uncertainty, mindfulness, and self-compassion in weight regulation among male army recruits

About the Author: Dr. Dawn M. Sweet has over 20 years of experience in the field of communication. Dr. Sweet has given several invited talks to and workshops for academic and private sector audiences on the role of nonverbal and verbal communication in achieving positive outcomes and mitigating bias. Her research has been published in several top ranked peer-review journals, and it has been featured on NPR’s River to River / All Things Considered, Buzzfeed, and Science Daily. Her research has also been used to inform expert testimony.

About Robard: For 45 years, Robard Corporation’s medical obesity treatment programs and nutrition products have been utilized by physicians, surgeons and hospitals across the United States to successfully treat patients living with obesity. To learn more about us and how we can help your practice and patients, visit us online at, email us at, or call (800) 222-9201.

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