Can Mindful Eating and Training Protect Against Body Self-Objectification and More Generalized Wellness Variables in Adolescent Females

Written at Sacred Heart Academy

By Sofia Di Scipio



Abstract

Mindfulness can be defined as a state of being attentive and aware of what is happening in the present moment. Mindful eating has been used to treat eating disorders. 174 subjects at an all-girls academy completed mindful eating, objectified body-consciousness, and psychological wellness surveys. BMI was the covariate. The research design for Study I employed multivariate analyses of variance (MANCOVA’s) to compare the three Mindful Eating subscales across the two OBC subscales and an ANOVA against the single wellness variable. Body Mass Index (BMI) was used as a covariate in the MANCOVA’s. The same analyses were conducted with self-esteem (SE) as a dependent variable. Girls with higher disinhibition, higher awareness, and lower distraction scores reported significantly lower (healthier) levels of body image dysfunction (two OBC subscales) across a majority of variables relative to peers who did not self-report mindful-eating practices (five of six p’s<.05). Those who reported higher mindful-eating practices displayed less dissatisfaction and criticalness towards their bodies. Mindful eating manifested no significant effect on self-esteem or overall wellness (all p’s>.05). Phase II was a quasi-experimental project which taught participants how to eat mindfully by watching a three-minute mindfulness training video. Surveys were immediately retaken. In Phase II, counter to prediction, no significant change in any dependent variable occurred in either experimental or control populations after several within-subject analyses of (co)variance (all p’s >.05).

Introduction

Mindfulness can be defined as a state of being attentive and aware of what is happening in the present moment (Kabat-Zinn, 2003; Brown and Ryan, 2003). Several studies have shown that cultivating mindfulness may enhance psychological well-being (Baer et al., 2008; Bajaj, Gupta, & Pande, 2016). Individuals who reported greater mindfulness were less likely to report negative emotions and low self-esteem (Bajaj, Gupta & Pande, 2016). Since mindfulness heightens one’s ability to be aware and attentive in the present moment, one is less likely to manifest negative emotions and critical thoughts. This tends to improve one’s self-esteem and positive emotion (Pepping, O’Donovan, & David, 2013; Leary & MacDonald, 2003). Self-esteem also plays a key role in augmenting a person’s positive well-being (Bajaj, et al., 2003). While mindfulness is shown to improve psychological well-being, it has also been employed as a method to monitor the process of eating.

The action of mindful eating includes focusing on the process of eating through being aware of all stimuli and recognizing environmental triggers that initiate and cease eating (Albers, 2008). In addition, through mindfulness-based eating awareness training, individuals may experience a heightened ability to resist compulsive and mindless eating (Kristeller, 2003; Moor, Scott, & McIntosh, 2012). Through consistent and daily mindfulness meditation, one can condition one’s innate skills of awareness and attention to improve these abilities (Kabat-Zinn, 2003). Mindfulness can be practiced in daily life through basic actions: such as walking, bathing, and eating (Baer & Krietemeyer, 2006). By being attentive during such actions one can improve one’s ability to make decisions and increase one’s sense of control. Mindful eating has been used to treat eating disorders including binge eating disorder and bulimia nervosa. Studies conducted by Kristeller and Hallett (1999) and Proulx (2008) respectively, illustrate the reduction of binges, an augmented sense of control overeating, and an increased ability to detect the difference between satiety and hunger. These studies also had positive effects on the mental state of its participants through the reduction of anxiety, depression, and emotional distress. Specifically, in Kristeller and Hallett’s study (1999), participants increased a sense of control and self-worth and general mood.

Western cultures thoroughly engender female body dissatisfaction from childhood to adulthood. The unrealistic images of skeletal models are ubiquitous throughout the media. Because negative attitudes toward more overweight individuals are heavily prevalent in society, dieting is portrayed as a “normal” method to combat fatness. This resolutely advances the idea that being thin is not only preferable but also quite attainable for the majority of average-sized females through dieting. It is through the women who fail to conform to these unattainable beauty standards that they feel that they are abnormal. Through this false sense of abnormality, women can experience the psychological and physical repercussions for the inordinately high standards of Western society (Garner, et al., 1980; Thompson & Heinberg, 1993; Thompson, & Heinberg, 1999; Kahumoku, et al., 2011).

The attempts of females to conform to unfeasible standards of beauty are rooted in the significant pressures applied by Western society. The effects of impractical Western beauty standards for women often lead to self-objectification and internalization. It is stated in Fredrickson and Roberts’ self-objectification theory that females, both young and old, see themselves as objects made only to please others (1997). Additionally, the “thin-ideal internalization,” concept was created to depict the deleterious internalization of Western standards of females (Thompson and Stice, 2001). This “thin-ideal internalization” engenders itself within individuals due to the common approval of such standards from significant others, family, peers, and the media itself. The internalization of such unrealistic standards consequently results in body dissatisfaction for most women who cannot conform to the impossibly high standards of their society. Women are then left with burdensome feelings of being abnormal and utterly uncomfortable in their own skin. Females who are unable to attain such absurd standards implemented by their society generally develop a strong sense of body dissatisfaction (Thompson and Stice, 2001). Female body dissatisfaction can also be magnified through the media’s rigid picture of an ideal women which mirrors the American vision of beauty by heightening the desirability of a thin woman leaving women who do not reflect this image unsatisfied with their bodies (Cash and Henry, 1995; Freedman, 1984).

It is because of this unattainable vision of what a woman should look like, that young females have been plagued by unparalleled levels of discontentment in oneself. In fact, scholars from several disciplines have argued that both electronic and print media unduly influence body and weight issues (Evans et al, 1995; Jacobi and Cash, 1994; Polivy and Herman, 1985; Silverstein et al, 1986; Stein and Reichert, 1990; Stice et al, 1994; Wooley and Wooley, 1984).

Hypotheses

This study examines the relationship between mindful eating and a) objectified body consciousness b) self-esteem c) general well-being. Can mindful eating serve as a protective factor in adolescent females? Phase I will be a between-subjects, cross-sectional test of girls aged 14-18 at an all-girls private school that draws its population from 90% of the public school districts in New York State's Nassau County, a suburb of New York City. Phase II involves a single mindfulness training session offered in 10th grade health class, followed by a new round of surveys. Longitudinal analyses of the classes of 2020 and 2021 (untrained) and 2022 (trained) will be conducted in Fall 2019.

Phase I:

1. Higher levels of mindful eating will curb the negative effects of body shame and surveillance.

2. Higher levels of mindful eating will positively influence teenage girls’ self-esteem.

3. Adolescent females who exhibit a higher level of mindful eating will report higher generalized mental well-being.

Phase II:

1. Adolescent females who do not undergo mindful-eating training will not report significantly increased scores across SE, OBC, and WEMWBS variables.

2. Adolescent females who undergo mindful-eating training will report significantly increased scores across SE, OBC, and WEMWBS variables.

Method

Phase I

Participants were enrolled in an all-girls private school that draws its students from 42 different public-school districts in four counties (Nassau, Suffolk, Queens & Kings) n=174 | (female=174). After consent was obtained, 174 girls (mean age: 15.7) completed a survey packet that included the Objectified Body Consciousness Survey, the Mindful Eating Questionnaire, Rosenberg’s Self-Esteem Inventory and Warwick-Edinburgh Mental Well-Being Scale (WEMWBS).

Phase II

In Phase II, 92 females, from the same cohort, engaged in a mindfulness training session wherein 42 girls watched a three-minute video describing how to mindfully eat. Fifty girls did not watch a video. All 92 participants completed the same survey packed as in Phase I ninety days later.

See Appendix Table 1

Procedure

Phase I commenced after informed consent forms were returned. Girls in health, gym, and study hall periods were administered a 10 to15 minute anonymous survey which was composed of 4 individual instruments: the Mindful Eating Questionnaire, the Objectified Body Consciousness Survey, Rosenberg’s Self-Esteem Inventory and the Warwick-Edinburgh Mental Well-Being Scale (WEMWBS). For Phase II, a three-minute mindful eating video (Eat Mindfully) from Cheryl Jones MA., CEO, the Mindful Path, was administered to the experimental cohort in their health classes by the student researcher. After the video, participants of the experimental and control populations promptly retook the survey. A 2019 consent form was obtained from all subjects. Following the completion of the surveys, all data was coded, scored, and entered into an Excel database for analysis.

See Appendix Table 2

Results

Phase I

Estimated Marginal Means (standard errors) for the Dependent Variables.

See Appendix Tables 3-6

Phase II (Control Group)

Estimated Marginal Means (standard errors) for the Dependent Variables.

See Appendix Tables 7-10

Phase II (Experimental Group)

See Appendix Table 11-14

Phase I

The research design for Study I employed a multivariate analysis of variance (MANCOVA to compare the three Mindful Eating subscales across the two OBC subscales and the single wellness variable. Body Mass Index (BMI) was used as a covariate. The same analyses were conducted with self-esteem (SE) as a dependent variable. Those girls with higher disinhibition, higher awareness and lower distraction scores reported significantly lower (healthier) levels of B.I.D. across a majority of variables relative to peers who did not self-report mindful-eating practices (five of six p’s <.05). There were no significant levels of wellness or self-esteem reported in response to higher mindful eating scores (all p’s>.05). See tables 2-5.

Phase II

Phase II sported a quasi-experimental within subjects’ design. This phase sought to teach experimental participants how to mindfully eat by watching a three-minute training video. Surveys were immediately retaken. Unexpectedly,no significant change in any dependent variable occurred in either experimental or control populations (all p’s >.05). See tables 6-13.

Discussion

Phase I

MANCOVA-based evidence that mindful eating variables predicts significantly lower levels of body dissatisfaction (even though they did not impact self-esteem or general wellness) is important – to psychologists, parents, and educators. Consistent with Bajaj, Gupta & Pande (2016), this finding may be because girls who reported greater mindfulness were less likely to report negative emotions. However, we did not find a direct link to self-esteem. Mindfulness did demonstrate strong significance in combating body objectification. Clearly, teaching girls to mindfully eat in a purposeful, systematic way ought to promote healthy body image especially in a society that is plagued by impossibly high beauty standards for females. Following the lead of recent scholars, the next step is to develop a simple and effective method for teaching young women mindful eating through mindfulness-based eating awareness training. (Kristeller, 2003; Moor, Scott, & McIntosh, 2012). Can a brief intervention be distilled from the long-term quasi-experimental protocols employed by these scholars?

Phase II

The introduction of mindful eating exercise to the experimental cohort led to no significant gains in self-esteem, objectified body consciousness, or mental wellbeing of the young ladies. While the three-minute video was reasonably engaging and factually correct in all respects, its brief duration and non-participatory format may have limited the impact its training had on the participants. We suggest that future projects could involve following a protocol such as Jon Kabat-Zinn’s (2003) 8-week Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction course for cultivating mindfulness. Utilizing Kabat-Zinn’s 8-week Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction program, participants would learn mindfulness tactics for twenty minutes daily, preferably in their secondary health classes. Through consistent and daily mindfulness meditation, one’s innate skills of self-awareness would be conditioned (Kabat-Zinn, 2003). Although such training sessions would not directly teach mindful eating, as did the brief training video used in Phase II, by cultivating one’s mindfulness it will indirectly push participants to remain in tune with their senses during many daily activities, especially while eating.

Through direct and consistent contact, and more engaging training sessions, participants’ greater interest in mindfulness might lead to cultivation of mindful eating habits. Unlike Phase II's simple three-minute training video, following a more expansive 8-week course would promote improved mindfulness tactics. This, in turn, should lead to increased levels of self-esteem, general mental well-being, and decreased objectified body consciousness. As demonstrated in Phase I, effectively cultivating mindful eating can help female adolescents break the cycle of conformity to the increasingly rigid, and physically unrealistic, beauty standards prevalent in Western society (Garner, et al>., 1980; Thompson & Heinberg, 1993; Thompson, & Heinberg, 1999; Kahumoku, et al., 2011). Phase II did not effectively improve mindful eating habits in our adolescent female sample and consequently did not have a significant effect on one’s body image. Through a more consistent and engaging mindfulness training, participants could benefit not only from enhanced mindful eating skills but also from a healthier body image as seen in Phase I.




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Appendix

Table 1: Ethnicity Statistics

Ethnicities Nassau County School Demographics United States Sample I Sample II
White 62.2% 83.0% 62.0% 82.2% 80.9%
Black 11.5% 7.0% 16.9% 7.3% 7.7%
Hispanic 15.6% 7.0% 12.9% 7.9% 8.5%
Asian/Pacific 8.7% 2.0% 5.2% 1.7% 1.9%
Others 2.1% 1.0% 3.3% 0.9% 1.0%

Table 2: Instruments

Title Author(s)/Date Purpose/Sample Questions
The Mindful eating Questionnaire (MEQ) Framson et al., 2009 This survey is a 28 item measure that indicates one’s level of mindful eating.
Awareness (MEQ) #10 “I notice when there are subtle flavors in the foods I eat.”
Disinhibition (MEQ) #7 “When I’m eating one of my favorite foods, I don’t recognize when I’ve had enough.”
Distraction (MEQ) #6 “My thoughts tend to wander while I am eating.”
Objectified Body Consciousness (OBC) McKinley & Hyde, 1996 This survey measures aspects that make up one’s objectified body consciousness.
Surveillance (OBC) #16 “I often worry about whether the clothes I am wearing make me look good.”
Body Shame (OBC) #11 “I would be ashamed for people to know what I really weigh.”
Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale Rosenberg, 1965 This survey measures self-worth through the positive and negative emotions one feels about oneself.
Warwick Edinburgh Mental Well Being Scale (WEMWBS) Tennant, et al., 2007 This survey measures mental well-being through positive aspects of mental health.

Table 3: Self-Esteem

Low High
Awareness 31.42 (.939)A 30.97 (.960)A
Disinhibition 30.93 (.985)A 31.33 (.865)A
Distraction 31.40 (.779)A 31.21 (.845)A

Means with different superscripts differ at least at p<.05 level.

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Table 4: OBC-Surveillance

Low High
Awareness 30.66 (.651)A 28.51 (.392)B
Disinhibition 31.25 (.420)A 28.23 (.927)B
Distraction 28.42 (.619)A 30.01 (.666)B

Means with different superscripts differ at least at p<.05 level.

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Table 5: OBC-Body Shame

Low High
Awareness 25.85 (.633)dA 18.27 (.613)B
Disinhibition 24.82 (.694)A 18.49 (.509)B
Distraction 22.14 (.577)A 22.65 (.544)A

Means with different superscripts differ at least at p<.05 level.

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Table 6: Warwick Edinburgh Mental Well Being Scale

Low High
Awareness 48.59 (.844)A 50.95 (1.083)A
Disinhibition 49.75 (1.009)A 49.75 (1.159)A
Distraction 49.52 (1.671)A 49.60 (1.633)A

Means with different superscripts differ at least at p<.05 level.

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Table 7: Self Esteem

Low 1 Low 2 High 1 High 2
Awareness 31.51 (.989)A 31.47 (.966)A 30.45 (.875)A 31.22 (.952)A
Disinhibition 30.75 (.932)A 31.20 (.842)A 31.48 (.902)A 31.09 (.934)A
Distraction 31.78 (.985)A 31.74 (.935)A 31.75 (.882)A 31.42 (.904)A

Means with different superscripts differ at least at p<.05 level.

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Table 8: OBC- Surveillance

Low 1 Low 2 High 1 High 2
Awareness 30.28 (.702)A 30.95 (.601)A 28.12 (.508)B 28.25 (.417)B
Disinhibition 30.17 (.625)A 30.02 (.588)A 28.42 (.497)B 28.03 (.619)B
Distraction 27.14 (.595)A 28.08 (.619)A 30.49 (.572)B 30.83 (.702)B

Means with different superscripts differ at least at p<.05 level.

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Table 9: OBC-Body Shame

Low 1 Low 2 High 1 High 2
Awareness 25.41 (.625)A 25.88 (.825)A 18.85 (.620)B 18.25 (.612)B
Disinhibition 24.85 (.714)A 25.09 (.615)A 18.27 (.588)B 17.95 (.698)B
Distraction 22.81 (.645)A 22.51 (.493)A 23.02 (.527)A 22.47 (.721) A

Means with different superscripts differ at least at p<.05 level.

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Table 10: Warwick Edinburgh Mental Well Being Scale

Low 1 Low 2 High 1 High 2
Awareness 48.92 (1.134)A 48.87 (1.121)A 49.39 (1.127) A 50.02 (1.434)A
Disinhibition 49.43 (1.114)A 49.23 (.994)A 49.75 (1.022)A 49.95 (1.219)A
Distraction 49.80 (1.225)A 49.73 (.993)A 49.88 (.918)A 49.83 (1.421)A

Means with different superscripts differ at least at p<.05 level.

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Table 11: Self-Esteem

Low 1 Low 2 High 1 High 2
Awareness 31.55 (.939)A 31.49 (.965)A 30.52 (.941)A 30.85 (.922)A
Disinhibition 30.98 (.965)A 31.22 (.875)A 31.42 (.895)A 31.47 (.921)A
Distraction 31.85 (1.025)A 31.65 (.986)A 31.25 (.902)A 30.30 (.885)A

Means with different superscripts differ at least at p<.05 level.

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Table 12: OBC-Surveillance

Low 1 Low 2 High 1 High 2
Awareness 30.25 (.721)A 30.75 (.692)A 28.35 (.421)B 28.20 (.407)B
Disinhibition 30.05 (.588)A 30.35 (.525)A 28.85 (6.99)B 28.02 (.608)B
Distraction 27.88 (.725)A 28.49 (.692)A 30.25 (.722)B 30.85 (.711)B

Means with different superscripts differ at least at p<.05 level.

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Table 13: OBC-Body Shame

Low 1 Low 2 High 1 High 2
Awareness 25.55 (.685)A 26.02 (.714)A 18.35 (.622)B 18.95 (.685)B
Disinhibition 24.98 (.725)A 25.14 (.628)A 18.02 (.619)B 17.20 (.701)B
Distraction 22.69 (.675)A 22.51 (.635)A 23.19 (.585)A 22.65 (.612)A

Means with different superscripts differ at least at p<.05 level.

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Table 14: Warwick Edinburgh Mental Well Being Scale

Low 1 Low 2 High 1 High 2
Awareness 48.72 (1.251)A 49.03 (1.003)A 50.35 (1.117)A 50.12 (1.223)A
Disinhibition 49.62 (1.125)A 49.71 (.894)A 49.65 (.975)A 50.85 (.993)A
Distraction 49.65 (1.372)A 49.33 (1.102)A 49.81 (1.425)A 50.22 (1.512)A

Means with different superscripts differ at least at p<.05 level.

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