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The Effect of Brief Mindfulness Training on Brain Reactivity to Food Cues During Nicotine Withdrawal: A Pilot Functional Imaging Study

  • Emily A Kragel
  • Maggie M Sweitzer
  • James M DavisEmail author



Many individuals who smoke relapse due to weight gain. Mindfulness training has been shown to help smokers quit smoking and, in other populations, has been used to help people lose weight. This study was designed to assess the effect of 1 week of mindfulness practice on food cravings in smokers during 12-hour smoking abstinence.


We assessed daily smokers with a history of smoking lapse after weight gain. Participants were provided with brief training in mindfulness meditation and mindful eating and were asked to practice each skill daily for 1 week. Before and after this week of mindfulness practice, participants completed surveys to rate their nicotine dependence and food cravings and underwent testing via functional magnetic resonance imaging.


Study results included pre–post intervention reduction in brain activity in dorsomedial prefrontal cortex, visual areas, and premotor areas, regions potentially associated with response to food images.


The study was small; however, it suggests the possibility that mindfulness training might be used to decrease food cravings after smoking cessation.


Mindfulness Functional magnetic resonance imaging Weight Food cravings Smoking cessation 



Jennifer Greyber provided editorial assistance in preparing the manuscript for submission.

Author Contributions

EK designed the study, conducted recruitment, ran participants through all components of the study, collected data, and drafted the manuscript. MS oversaw imaging design, analyzed imaging data, wrote results, and compiled tables and figures. JD obtained funding for the study, supervised all components of the study, provided mindfulness training to participants, and co-wrote and edited the manuscript. All authors approved the final version of the manuscript for submission.


This project was supported through discretionary funds.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Ethical approval

This study was approved by the Duke University Institutional Review Board (PRO00079233).

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants in the study.

Conflict of Interest

EK has received no research grant funding, no significant honorarium funding, and declares no conflict of interest. MS has received research grant funding from NIH and Brain and Behavior Research. MS received no significant honorarium funding and declares no conflict of interest. JD has received research grant funding from Pfizer Inc. and Axsome Therapeutics Inc. JD has received no significant honorarium funding and declares no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

12671_2019_1201_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (85 kb)
ESM 1. Description of data: Data collected for this study included self-report data on demographics, smoking (PDF 85 kb) history, food urges, mindfulness, stress, and biochemical assessment of smoking through carbon monoxide breath testing. Pregnancy tests were conducted for all female participants prior to fMRI. Additionally, the study collected structural and functional activity of the brain through functional imaging with BOLD signal (showing blood flow to specified brain regions) within each imaging voxel over time and coordinated in time with images presented through the functional imaging protocol.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Brody School of MedicineEast Carolina UniversityGreenvilleUSA
  2. 2.Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral SciencesDuke University School of MedicineDurhamUSA
  3. 3.Duke Center for Smoking CessationDuke University School of MedicineDurhamUSA

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