Obesity is epidemic in the industrialized world. In the U.S. more than 2 in 3 adults are considered to be overweight or obese, while more than 1 in 3 adults are considered to be obese. Particularly troubling is that about one-third of children and adolescents are considered to be overweight or obese and half of those are obese. This is having a major impact on the health of the population. Obesity has been found to shorten life expectancy by eight years and extreme obesity by 14 years.
There has been extensive study of overeating and obesity and countless dietary programs have been proposed, but the epidemic appears to be getting worse rather than better. Recently mindfulness has been looked at as potentially helpful in weight control. In today’s Research News article “Association between Mindfulness and Weight Status in a General Population from the NutriNet-Santé Study.”
it is shown that the risk of obesity is lower in women and men who have high mindfulness.
The use of mindfulness as an aid for healthy weight is very exciting and early results are very promising. But, how can mindfulness, being aware in the present moment, affect eating and body weight?
A substantial proportion of eating occurs mindlessly. We often eat while distracted, immersed in conversation, watching television, reading etc. It has been shown that intake is increased when we eat mindlessly. With mindless eating, we tend to ignore the body’s cues of hunger, satiety, and fullness and keep eating even when full. Mindfulness training, simply by improving attention to what is transpiring in the present moment is an antidote to mindless eating. It is impossible to be simultaneously paying attention and being mindless. It is impossible to be mindful and not notice the body’s signals of hunger and fullness. Hence, one way that mindfulness can assist in intake and weight control is by making us more mindful eaters.
People, particularly women, tend to eat when they are experience intense emotions. Food seems to be used as a salve for ruffled emotions. Mindfulness can help here also. Mindfulness training improves the individual’s ability to regulate and respond appropriately to their emotions. This improved emotional regulation is an antidote to emotional eating. Rather than attempting to control emotions through eating the individual can apply mindfulness, improving emotional regulation, and thereby reducing overall intake.
Chronic stress also tends to promote overeating and obesity. As has been shown in a myriad of studies, mindfulness training is an antidote for chronic stress. Hence, by reducing stress mindfulness can help to reduce food intake.
Many obese people try to control their eating through avoidance or limit-setting, thinking “willpower” is what they need. As a result they are constantly trying the latest diet fad. But the diet makes them miserable and produces negative feelings about food. This, by itself, is sufficient reason to abandon the diet, which is almost the inevitable outcome. Mindful eating, on the other hand, enhances the pleasantness of eating. By paying close attention to the food, its flavors and textures, the individual begins to savor food and truly enjoy eating. So, mindful eating can not only reduce intake but also can do so while promoting enjoyment of food. This makes mindful eating programs much easier to maintain, making them more effective.
SO, learn to eat mindfully and maintain a healthier weight.