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Mindfulness eating app developed at UMMS can help people manage cravings, study finds

By Sarah Willey

UMass Medical School Communications

September 26, 2017
  Judson Brewer, MD, PhD

An app designed by mindfulness and addiction expert Judson Brewer, MD, PhD, to change people’s unhealthy relationships with food can help them break the cycle of craving-related eating, according to a new study published in the Journal of Behavioral Medicine.

Dr. Brewer, associate professor of medicine and psychiatry, director of research at the medical school’s Center for Mindfulness and chief of the Division of Mindfulness, collaborated on the new research which was led by Ashley Mason, PhD, assistant professor of psychiatry at University of California San Francisco (UCSF), Core Faculty at the UCSF Osher Center for Integrative Medicine.  

The trial examined 104 overweight and obese individuals who tested Eat Right Now®, an app-based intervention created by Brewer to help teach participants how to rework the stress-eating cycle. The intervention was delivered by way of short videos, animations, and in-the-moment exercises. Over 28 days, participants practiced daily mindfulness techniques for 10 minutes. The data found that participants who completed the intervention saw a 40 percent reduction in craving-related eating in addition to reductions in reward-related eating and eating for social reasons. 

“Our training teaches them to paradoxically turn toward their cravings, and even investigate what they feel like, which can be quite radical for many people because the habitual response is to turn away from things that are unpleasant,” Brewer explained. “This sounds a bit strange at first, because with traditional dieting, we are taught to resist that urge to eat.”

“Not only did they really like the program, but people reported, both on their self-report questionnaires and on their way out of their follow-up visit with us, that the intervention had changed their relationship with food and eating,” Mason said.