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New research from Emma Osborne, Research Assistant at the Centre for Research on Eating Disorders (CREDO) at the University of Oxford (and PhD Candidate at the University of Bath), and Dr Melissa Atkinson, University of Bath, investigated two ways in which mindfulness might improve body satisfaction and mood.

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Mindfulness involves paying attention to our thoughts, feelings, and sensations, in the moment, and without judgement. Previous research has shown mindfulness can help reduce distressing experiences, including negative emotions and feelings of dissatisfaction about our bodies. However, little is known about how mindfulness may have this effect.

This new research, Effects of Decentering and Non-judgement on Body Dissatisfaction and Negative Affect Among Young Adult Women, is published in Mindfulness.

The research first focused on the "paying attention" of mindfulness. Attending to our thoughts and feelings encourages us to take a step back and view them as separate from ourselves. The researchers examined whether this distancing, or "decentering" may help reduce the impact of negative thoughts and feelings, including those related to our bodies.

The second focus was on the "non-judgement" of mindfulness. Taking a non-judgemental stance towards our thoughts and feelings may in turn encourage us to develop a more accepting and noncritical view of ourselves and our bodies. The researchers compared the effects of these two parts of mindfulness – decentering and non-judgement – on women's feelings after looking at pictures of thin female models idealised in traditional and social media.

The researchers also included a control group and asked some participants to take a short break to rest. This allowed the researchers to see if either of these two parts of mindfulness practice were more helpful than no mindfulness practice.

The results showed that both the decentering and non-judgement groups experienced significant improvements in body satisfaction and mood. Unexpectedly, however, the group taking a short break to rest also experienced similar improvements.

Emma Osborne, study author, CREDO, Department of Psychiatry, said:

 

'A single, brief session of mindfulness did seem to have a positive effect on body dissatisfaction and mood. However, it did not seem to be anymore effective than a single session of resting. This means it is hard for us to know how, specifically, mindfulness works to improve body image and mood. It is possible that in this study, taking a moment to withdraw from looking at the media images – whether by decentering, practising non-judgement, or resting – was enough to have a short-term positive effect on mood, or provide a distraction from concerns about one's body.

'We only looked at the effects of mindfulness in the short term. It might be that, after regular practice over a longer period of time, mindfulness has a more powerful and specific effect on body satisfaction. It would be helpful now to examine how mindfulness works in the long term. If we can better understand how mindfulness works, we can improve mindfulness-based interventions by focusing on the parts of mindfulness that have the biggest effect when helping people overcome distress.'

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