Mindfulness — Who Benefits?

There are several varieties of mindfulness-based therapy, including Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy, Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, and Acceptance & Commitment Therapy. Pain of any kind can, understandably, stimulate a desire to escape that pain or at least momentarily drown it out.

The conditions amenable to help from mindfulness therapy include depressive disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder, substance use disorders, and borderline personality disorder. By and large, grownups are more likely to be troubled by these illnesses.

Yesterday we discussed the urgent necessity for a tool to defeat emotional triggers. But where do these triggers come from? Physical pain brings emotional distress, and it is of course not exclusive to adults. A child might experience temporary pain, like having an injection. Parents who “fix” this pain by buying ice cream do their children no favors.

But on the whole, except for people who live in war zones, physical pain is more of an issue for adults. Chronic pain from injuries, or the long development of ailments where pain is a consequence, usually concerns grownups. But emotional pain does not discriminate by age. It’s for everyone, young and old. It makes more of an impact on the young, who have not had time or tools to form defenses. A emotional trigger can be just about anything, like hearing the name “Martha.”

A social sciences term, stress-buffering, encompasses the means of defense. Thomas Gale writes:

The concept of the stress-buffering model is that certain resources help to reduce the impact of negative life events on an individual’s health status.

Supportive relationships contribute to well-being because they provide a source of intimacy, acceptance, and confiding about emotions (emotional support), which provides buffering effects across a broad range of life stressors. Supportive persons may also offer useful advice and guidance (informational support).

Psychosocial resources serve as a buffer to insulate people from deleterious stress effects. But what about kids in chaotic, violent home environments? “Mom, Dad, put down those weapons and let’s have a little social support here.” Or even kids in ostensibly civilized but cold home environments devoid of intimacy, acceptance, and other necessary positive emotional props — what about them? Will UPS deliver a crate of psychosocial resources?

In the overwhelming majority of cases kids have no opportunity to leave the scene of the emotional carnage. Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome is not just for military personnel, but affects millions of children, who live daily with threats that are often carried out, with chronic emotional and/or physical neglect, and with unrelenting exposure to the effects that stress has on the adults around them. They carry pain from year to year, and one of the ways they cope with it is by eating.

This aspect of treating childhood obesity is probably not spoken of enough. People in the helping professions are dependent on parents to bring their children for help. The “elephant in the room” is that parenting is usually the biggest causative factor in a child’s life.

It must be so tempting, sometimes, to step out of the caregiving role and ask, “What have you done to this kid?” In cases of obvious physical abuse, that is exactly what doctors, teachers, and social workers are obligated to do. When it comes to obesity, to accuse parents of abuse would be professional suicide, and certainly wouldn’t help any children.

Fortunately, professionals have other options — like suggesting mindfulness therapy.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Mindfulness as a Resource for Health Homes,” KS.gov, August 2015
Source: “Stress-Buffering Model,” What-When-How.com, 2008
Image by nspimages/123RF Stock Photo.

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About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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