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The effect of an 8-week mindful eating intervention on anticipatory reward responses in the midbrain

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Janssen, L., Duif, I., Speckens, A. E. M., van Loon, I., de Vries, J. H. M., Cools, R., et al. (2017). The effect of an 8-week mindful eating intervention on anticipatory reward responses in the midbrain. bioRxiv. doi:10.1101/165845.

Cite as: http://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-0004-BA81-8
Obesity is a highly prevalent disease, usually resulting from chronic overeating. Accumulating evidence suggests that increased neural responses during the anticipation of high caloric food play an important role in overeating. A promising method to counteract enhanced food anticipation in overeating might be mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs). However, how MBIs can affect food reward anticipation neurally has never been studied. In this randomized, actively controlled study we aimed to investigate whether an 8-week mindful eating intervention decreases reward anticipation in striatal and midbrain reward regions. Using functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging, we tested 58 healthy subjects with a wide body mass index range (BMI: 19-35 kg/m2), who were motivated to change their eating behavior. During scanning they performed an incentive delay task, measuring neural reward anticipation responses to caloric and monetary cues before and after 8 weeks of mindful eating or educational cooking (active control). Relative to educational cooking (active control), mindful eating decreased reward anticipation responses to food, but not to monetary reward cues, in the midbrain, but not the striatum. The effects were specific to reward anticipation and did not extend to reward receipt. These results show that an 8-week mindful eating intervention may decrease the salience of food cues specifically, which could result in decreased food-cue triggered overeating on the long term. Significance statement Mindfulness-based interventions have been shown effective in reducing disordered eating behavior in clinical as well as non-clinical populations. Here, we present the first randomized actively controlled study investigating the effects of mindfulness on reward anticipation in the brain. Using fMRI we show that midbrain responses to caloric, but not monetary, reward cues are reduced following an 8-week intervention of mindful eating relative to educational cooking (active control). Mindful eating interventions may thus be promising in counteracting reward cue-driven overeating, particularly in our obesogenic environment with food cues everywhere. Moreover, our data show that specific mindfulness-based interventions can target specific reward-cue responses in the brain, which might be relevant in other compulsive behaviors such as addiction.