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Stress during pregnancy may lead to unhealthy food choices

Published in BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth, researchers tailored a mindfulness approach to helping tackle overeating and stress during pregnancy.

Pregnancy is a huge milestone and a period of immense upheaval for many women, physically, mentally and otherwise. Before and during pregnancy eating habits can change drastically and with obesity already being a health crisis, it is important to develop healthy practices during pregnancy.

Many problems and complications can arise during pregnancy in many moms who overeat. Monitoring calorie intake alone may not address this problem. Many factors influence weight gain in pregnancy including genetics, medication, lack of activity, toxins, viruses, which disturb the balance and energy levels. Current methods are mostly focused on controlling nutritional and caloric intake. However, with the sole focus on nutritional recommendations, many of these programs do not achieve results mostly because they do not address why people overeat.

Why do people overeat?

Stress is a core factor that interacts with eating behaviours leading to problems with obesity. Mindfulness approaches are important and effective in combatting stress and the psychological causes of overeating. Helping individuals understand that the cues to eat may not come from hunger, and paying more attention to thoughts and emotions surrounding eating may help tackle the issues.

A recent study focused on a technique called Mindfulness Moms Training, which aims to increase mothers’ awareness of stress, hunger, fullness, satiety cues, increase resistance to stress, improve eating behaviours and modify the relationship between stress and eating to an extent. The study was published in the BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth journal.

The study began with a focus group of 110 overweight women. The participants were primarily from the San Francisco Bay Area, and between 8 and 20 weeks along in their pregnancy. A total of 100 participants were used for a comparison group and orientation and intervention sessions occurred at St. Luke’s Hospital and community health centres in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Approaches to reduce stress during pregnancy

For the study, they used three main approaches at the centre of the intervention for reducing stress during pregnancy. They placed an equal focus on nutrition and eating habits, as well as a mindfulness-awareness of hunger, taste satiety, food choices, and mindfulness skills to reduce stress.

The intervention techniques employed in the study participants included simple sitting meditation, light stretching, acceptance, and coping with stress. For mindfulness skills, participants discuss coping concepts and practical solutions that are informal and easy to apply. The focus of this approach led to three primary commitments in the participants: mindful eating, move my body and breathe. Thus the project developed an intervention technique to enable healthy weight gain and encourage better nutrition in pregnant women.

Multiple questionnaires were used such as the Mindful Eating Questionnaire (MEQ) to assess mindfulness during eating like flavours, colours, the smell of food, sweetness, and so on. An Acceptance and Action Questionnaire was used to measure the ability to tolerate negative thoughts and feelings and change behaviour to meet goals. The Emotion Regulation Questionnaire, a 10-item one looked at the tendency to suppress negative emotions, and the ability to reframe negative situations in a positive light. The Perceived Stress Scale examined how situations in daily life are perceived as stressful. Patient Health Questionnaire determined depressive symptoms and the Dutch Eating Behaviour Questionnaire gauged eating in response to emotions and external variables.

Stress during pregnancy leads to unhealthy eating

Following detailed statistical analysis, it is seen that stress during pregnancy leads to unhealthy eating and with iterative intervention, a mindfulness program unique to individual needs can be developed to tackle this. It is feasible to utilize and achieve results with a diverse population with such a program. General mindfulness, mindful eating, acceptance of stressors, emotion regulation were all partially seen to be affected through this approach. This intervention manual can be tailored according to need for other populations to help tackle stress during pregnancy and to regulate excess weight gain and obesity, leading to better health outcomes.

Written by Sonia Leslie Fernandez, Medical News Writer

Reference: Vieten, C., Laraia, B. A., Kristeller, J., Adler, N., Coleman-Phox, K., Bush, N. R., … & Epel, E. (2018). The mindful moms training: development of a mindfulness-based intervention to reduce stress and overeating during pregnancy. BMC pregnancy and childbirth18(1), 201.



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