Mindfulness could improve positive body image, study finds

Awareness of internal body signals can affect the way individuals see themselves, according to a new study by researchers at Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge, England, and published in the journal Body Image.

The research team recruited 646 British adults, including 447 women, ranging in age from 18 years old to 76 years old. Each participant completed six questionnaires: the Multidimensional Assessment of Interoceptive Awareness (MAIA); the Body Appreciation Scale-2; the Functionality Appreciation Scale; the Authentic Pride subscale from the Body and Appearance Self-Conscious Emotions Scale; and the Appearance Orientation and Overweight Preoccupation subscales from the Multidimensional Body-Self Relations Questionnaire.

After analyzing the results from the various questionnaires, researchers found what they refer to as “statistically significant relationships between people’s interoceptive awareness (IA) and body image,” according to a statement released by the university. IA is defined as the extent to which people are aware of internal body signals, such as heartbeat or breathing or hunger.

Researchers found that individuals who can sustain attention to their internal body signals tended to report higher levels of positive body image. In addition, they found people who trust their internal body signals were more likely to hold a positive view of their own body, and were less preoccupied with their weight, the study said.

Unfortunately, experiences of negative body image are extremely common, to the extent that some academics consider this a “normal” experience for women in Western society, said Jennifer Todd, PhD, faculty of science and engineering at Anglia Ruskin University, and lead author of the study.

"Our research finds associations between the awareness of internal body signals and measures of body image,” said Todd in a statement.

This could have implications for promoting positive body image, such as modifying interoceptive awareness through mindfulness-based practices, Todd said. However, additional research, including a broader population of study participants, is needed.

“The research also demonstrates that the relationship between interoceptive awareness and body image is complex and requires further investigation,” she said.