Accepting anxiety for peace of mind

Mindfulness-based therapy for anorexia patients
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Kyoto, Japan -- Sadly, our family members, friends, and celebrities have suffered from anorexia nervosa, or AN. This eating disorder is characterized by abnormally low body weight, food restriction, and voluntary vomiting, frequently induced by a distorted perception of weight or self-image.

Mindfulness meditation has already become a globally recognized method for addressing a variety of mental issues. Its effectiveness in clinically treating anorexia nervosa, however, was not sufficiently studied.

A team of researchers at Kyoto University's Graduate School of Medicine has now found that mindfulness meditation may reduce weight-related anxieties of AN patients. Results from the study show changes in the activity of brain regions involved in anxiety: emotion arousal, self-referential processing, and obsession. The team's mindfulness meditation program has also significantly decreased subjective anxiety.

"Our results suggest that the participants in the study became better at accepting their anxiety as it is," says lead author Tomomi Noda.

Mindfulness meditation cultivates awareness of the practitioners' present experience and their ability to not judge and rather accept their experiences despite any discomfort.

"We focused on the possibility that the mindfulness approach alleviates crippling anxieties about weight gain and self-image in patients with AN," adds co-author Masanori Isobe and Shisei Tei.

Mindfulness meditation was used to mitigate this anxiety by helping patients accept their anxieties, instead of avoiding them. A four-week mindfulness-based intervention program examined neural changes using tasks designed to induce weight-related anxiety.

The researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging -- or fMRI -- to analyze the potential effects of emotion regulation via mindfulness, and the results supported their predictions.

"Given the fact that several global events, such as the Covid-19 pandemic and the Russo-Ukraine War, may induce anxiety in AN patients, further research is urgently needed for developing effective therapy," adds Noda.

"We anticipate practical implications of our results in clinical psychiatry and psychology and broader research into mitigating suffering through mindfulness, using the strategy of self-acceptance," concludes group leader Toshiya Murai.

Credit: KyotoU / Robin Hoshino
The process of Mindfulness meditation and brain regions with reduced activity after the Mindfulness program.
Tomomi Noda
Shisei Tei
Publication information



Tomomi Noda, Masanori Isobe, Ryo Mishima, Keima Tose, Michiko Kawabata, Toshihiko Aso, Shisei Tei, Shun'ichi Noma, Toshiya Murai (2023). Neural correlates of a mindfulness-based intervention in anorexia nervosa. BJPsych Open, 9(1):e22.