If I hear the word “mindfulness” one more time, I might shoot myself. So today, I’m going to talk about mindfulness.
- You have a bowl of chips in your lap while you’re watching tv. Or at least you did. Now the bowl is empty. How is that possible?
- The hamburger is gone, and for the life of you, you don’t know how. Did you really eat it all? It seems you barely remember any of it after that first bite.
- You clear the plates from the table. There’s still food on them — until you get to the sink, that is.
Using food as a way to numb or soothe yourself has one major problem: it doesn’t work. It may seem like a solution at the time, but that temporary fix is not only short-lived, but is also invariably followed by remorse and even shame. Even if mindless eating is just a habit you’ve gotten into — the chips on the couch, the finishing off of everyone else’s plates — it still results in extra calories, if not extra negative emotions. And be honest —green vegetables are not what you tend to eat mindlessly (1).
Stress, emotional discomfort, and fatigue are three of the major players when it comes to cravings and overeating (2). Not only do these three factors result in dysfunctional eating, but they also result from it (1). By enhancing intentionality and by expanding the space between a stimulus (such as stress) and your response to it, mindfulness is an incredibly effective tool to help you break these habits.
Being intentional about what you eat and how you eat it gives you the opportunity to savor food and to move past your autopilot lizard brain to a place of reason and judgment. Are you familiar with that annoying raisin exercise? In case you’re not, it consists of taking a single raisin and carefully looking at it and feeling it’s texture for a while. Then you put it in your mouth, but you don’t bite down yet. You roll it around in your mouth or whatever and notice the sensation. Finally, after what seems like an eternity, you bite down on the blessed thing. So hokey, so gimmicky, right? But guess what? When you finally do chew that raisin, it absolutely bursts with flavor. You’ve never tasted such an amazing raisin in your whole life. Something to think about, no?
A mindful approach to what you eat and how you eat has been demonstrated to decrease stress eating (2), emotional eating, and even binge eating. It will definitely increase your chance of both losing weight (3) and keeping weight off (4). Both Jay and I credit our success with weight loss and maintenance to our own personally-developed patterns of making one — just one — deliberate choice after another. This strategy has enabled us to incorporate new ideas, habits, decisions, and actions without feeling overwhelmed and underproductive.
Here are some practical suggestions that may help you be less automatic and more intentional in your approach to eating:
1. Try to slow down your eating (don’t ask me how to do this — I find it quite difficult). Chew more. Pay attention to the taste and texture of the food. Put down the fork between bites. You don’t have to turn every mouthful into the raisin exercise, but you get my drift.
2. You’ve eaten some food. Do you want to eat more? Your answer may be that you always want to eat more and that I’ve asked a stupid question — but maybe I haven’t. Take a few breaths and see how you feel. Maybe even get up from the table and do something else for 20 minutes or so (the time it usually takes the brain to register that it’s not hungry any more).
3. Okay, now the big one: how to choose to eat an apple instead of apple pie:
Let's agree on this: for most of us, it's hard to choose the apple. Here’s what to do: pause. Stop and think. How will you feel about yourself in five minutes if you eat the pie? What about the apple? How about tomorrow? Let me tell you, you’re going to feel proud of yourself for eating the apple. You’re going to have that confidence that comes with being in control. Then you can build on that. All from eating one apple!
Don’t be derailed by your Evil Twin telling you that eating the apple means that for the rest of your life, you're stuck with apples and can never have pie again. That’s simply not true. You always have a choice. Right now, you’re choosing the apple because that’s the choice you want to make so that you’ll feel good about yourself in the short term, and it’s the choice you want to build on so that you’ll feel good physically and mentally in the long term. You can choose to have a slice of pie some other time if that’s what you want. But it’s not what you want now.
4. Prevention is, of course, critical. Maybe it’s not a meditative experience, but grocery shopping should certainly be a mindful one. Once that apple pie is in the house, you’re just asking for trouble. You may find yourself looking at the pie and not caring about how you’ll feel in five minutes or tomorrow. This is where planning ahead will really help you. Impulse buying is the work of the devil. As I write all these encouraging words about choosing the apple, I know full well that if there were a slice of pie next to me, it would be gone in ten minutes. Tops.
What do you think about all this? What works for you? Please share!
1. Forman EM et al. Mindful decision making and inhibitory control training as complementary means to decrease snack consumption. Appetite 2016; 103:176-83.
2. Dallman MF. Stress-induced obesity and the emotional nervous system. Trends Endocrine & Metab 2010; 21(3):159-65.
3. Rogers JM et al. Mindfulness-based interventions for adults who are overweight or obese: a meta-analysis of physical and psychological health outcomes. Obesity Reviews 2017; 18(1):51-67.
4. Olson KL, Emery CF. Mindfulness and weight loss: a systematic review. Psychos Med 2015; 77 (1) 59-67.
That mind-numbingly overused word "mindfulness" is worth another look.
Exerpts from Sato AF; Fahrenkamp AJ. From Bench to Bedside: Understanding Stress-Obesity Research Within the Context of Translation to Improve Pediatric Behavioral Weight Management
Pediatric Clinics of North America. 63(3):401-23, 2016 06.
Mason AE et al. Reduced reward-driven eating accounts for the impact of a mindfulness-based diet and exercise intervention on weight loss: Deata from the SHINE randomized controlled trial.
J. Appetite. 100:86-93, 2016 May 01.
AB Many individuals with obesity report over eating despite intentions to maintain or lose weight. Two barriers to long-term weight loss are reward-driven eating, which is characterized by a lack of control over eating, a preoccupation with food, and a lack of satiety; and psychological stress. Mindfulness training may address these barriers by promoting awareness of hunger and satiety cues, self-regulatory control, and stress reduction. We examined these two barriers as potential mediators of weight loss in the Supporting Health by Integrating Nutrition and Exercise (SHINE) randomized controlled trial, which compared the effects of a 5.5-month diet and exercise intervention with or without mindfulness training on weight loss among adults with obesity. Intention-to-treat multiple mediation models tested whether post-intervention reward-driven eating and psychological stress mediated the impact of intervention arm on weight loss at 12- and 18-months post-baseline among 194 adults with obesity (BMI: 30-45). Mindfulness (relative to control) participants had significant reductions in reward-driven eating at 6 months (post-intervention), which, in turn, predicted weight loss at 12 months. Post-intervention reward-driven eating mediated 47.1% of the total intervention arm effect on weight loss at 12 months [beta = -0.06, SE(beta) = 0.03, p = .030, 95% CI (-0.12, -0.01)]. This mediated effect was reduced when predicting weight loss at 18 months (p = .396), accounting for 23.0% of the total intervention effect, despite similar weight loss at 12 months. Psychological stress did not mediate the effect of intervention arm on weight loss at 12 or 18 months. In conclusion, reducing reward-driven eating, which can be achieved using a diet and exercise intervention that includes mindfulness training, may promote weight loss
Mantzios M; Wilson JC. Mindfulness, eating behaviours, and obesity: a review and reflection on current findings.Current Obesity Reports. 4(1):141-6, 2015 Mar.
AB Mindfulness and mindful eating have become popular in recent years. In this review, we first explore what mindfulness is in the context of psychological research, and why it offers promise for eating behaviours and weight loss. Second, we review the main empirical findings for weight loss in mindfulness-based intervention programmes. Third, contradictions in the findings are explored in more depth, and suggestions are made regarding why they may be occurring. Fourth, the benefits of adding self-compassion (and compassion) training to mindfulness practise to assist weight loss is discussed. Finally, the limitations of the research literature (and possible solutions) are explored. Overall, it is concluded that while mindfulness meditations that specifically focus on eating may be extremely helpful in promoting better eating behaviours, and assist in weight regulation, work is still needed to make such interventions appeal to a wider audience.