People who take the time to actively think about the types of foods that they are putting in their bodies are more likely to have healthier eating habits and better health outcomes, a new study analyzing the effects of mindful eating reported.

A research team headed by Jennifer Daubenmier, an assistant professor at the Osher Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, set out to test the effects of mindful eating, which is a practice that involves training the brain to become fully aware of one's emotions, feelings and sensations during meals. People who have been trained in mindful eating are less likely to overeat and indulge, which can lead to unhealthy weight gain.

"Whether eating snacks while watching the game or grazing by the dessert tray at the office event, we often find ourselves overeating not because we're hungry, but because the food looks delicious, we're distracted, or we wish to soothe away unpleasant feelings," Daubenmier said.

For this study, the team recruited 194 obese participants and placed them on a five-month long diet and exercise regimen that was designed for weight loss. The program was either supplemented with mindfulness training or educational and nutritional information. People in the mindfulness group were required to attend a two-and-a-half-hour class involving yoga, meditation and mindful eating training that took place every week.

After 18 months, the researchers found that people from the mindfulness group lost an average of 3.7 pounds more than the people from the control group. This difference, however, was not statistically significant.

The researchers did find that people from the mindfulness groups had better health outcomes tied to type 2 diabetes and heart disease. The researchers assessed these two health conditions by measuring the participants' fasting blood glucose levels and their ratio of triglycerides to high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol.

"Our study suggests that mindful eating can go further than making healthy food choices and recognizing when we're full; it could improve glucose levels and heart health to a greater extent than behavioral weight-loss programs that do not teach mindful eating," Daubenmier said.

"Most behavioral weight-loss interventions do not place as much emphasis on managing mindless eating, and previous studies on the topic have not included attention controls or long-term follow-up to better study the contribution of mindfulness components over time," said Deborah Tate, the spokeswoman for the Obesity Society. "This research points to some of the potential benefits of enhancing the mindfulness components of behavioral weight loss."

The study was published in the journal Obesity.