The Examination of Mindfulness, Stress, and Eating Behaviors in Mothers of Young Children

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Virginia Tech


With the alarming prevalence of overweight and obesity, it is important to explore new approaches and strategies to improve dietary quality and weight status. Recently, a neuropsychological model of obesity was proposed. This new model illustrates an evidencebased relationship between a chronically activated hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, due to chronic psychological stress and mood disturbance, and the food reward-related mechanisms within the brain. Intensive mindfulness-based training programs, such as Jon Kabat-Zinn's Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction have demonstrated impressive results with a variety of populations. Given the relationship of stress to eating behavior and the capacity of mindfulness in managing stress, a relationship between mindfulness and eating is expected. The goal of this dissertation research was to help understand the concept of mindful eating and the relationship between stress and eating behavior for mothers of young children in order to inform the development of a mindfulness-based stress management and dietary intervention. The research consisted of three components: 1) an informative photo-elicitation study with working mothers of young children aiming to understand how mothers define, perceive, and experience mindful eating; 2) a crosssectional study investigating the relationship between mindful eating, dietary quality, and stress; and 3) the development and mixed-methods pilot intervention of the Slow Down Program, a mindfulness-based stress management and nutrition program for mothers of young children. Results from these studies give further evidence on how mindfulness can be utilized in nutrition research and they further confirm the success of mindfulness-based training on health and dietary outcomes. This research can inform public health programs and practice to encourage mindfulness, as it relates to dietary behavior, for families and other audiences, as well as future research studies that explore the interaction between mindfulness and eating behaviors.



Nutrition, maternal stress, mindfulness, diet