Negative Mood and Food Craving Strength Among Women with Overweight: Implications for Targeting Mechanisms Using a Mindful Eating Intervention

Mindfulness (N Y). 2021;12(12):2997-3010. doi: 10.1007/s12671-021-01760-z. Epub 2021 Sep 24.


Objectives: When experiencing negative mood, people often eat to improve their mood. A learned association between mood and eating may cultivate frequent food cravings, detracting from health goals. Training in mindful eating may target this cycle of emotion-craving-eating by teaching individuals to manage urges when experiencing negative mood. We examined the impact of a mobile mindful eating intervention on the link between negative mood and food cravings among overweight women.

Methods: In a single-arm trial, participants (n = 64, M age = 46.1 years, M BMI = 31.5 kg/m2) completed ecological momentary assessments of negative mood and food cravings 3 times/day for 3 days pre- and post-intervention, as well as 1-month post-intervention. Using multilevel linear regression, we compared associations between negative mood and food craving strength at pre- vs. post-intervention (model 1) and post-intervention vs. 1-month follow-up (model 2).

Results: In model 1, negative mood interacted with time point (β = - .20, SE = .09, p = .02, 95% CI [- .38, - .03]) to predict craving strength, indicating that the within-person association between negative mood and craving strength was significantly weaker at post-intervention (β = 0.18) relative to pre-intervention (β = 0.38). In model 2, negative mood did not interact with time point to predict craving strength (β = .13, SE = .09, p = .10, 95% CI - .03, .31]); the association did not significantly differ between post-intervention and 1-month follow-up.

Conclusions: Training in mindful eating weakened the mood-craving association from pre- to post-intervention. The weakened association remained at follow-up. Our findings highlight the mood-craving link as a target-worthy mechanism of mindful eating that should be assessed in clinical trials.

Trial registration: NCT02694731.

Supplementary information: The online version contains supplementary material available at 10.1007/s12671-021-01760-z.

Keywords: Craving; Ecological momentary assessment; Meating; Negative mood.

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