Do you snack on autopilot? Have you found yourself eating a bag of crisps or a packet of biscuits while watching TV or reading a magazine and suddenly find they’ve all gone without you really noticing? If so, learning to eat mindfully could be your key to successful weight loss.
Mindful eating is a great way to help you lose weight. Taking the time to sit down and enjoy your food allows you to focus on the physical act of chewing. By concentrating on the textures and sensations, as well as the flavours, your rate of eating will naturally slow. As a result, mindfulness has numerous benefits and can:
- improve digestion
- reduce rapid swings in blood sugar levels
- allow more time for you to feel full so you eat less overall
- help you control your portion sizes
- reduce stress and the tendency to comfort eat.
Researchers have found that practicing mindful eating helps you consume around 14% fewer calories. As a result, mindful eating can help to prevent weight gain and promote weight loss.
Mindful eating reduces weight gain
Those who eat mindfully get more satisfaction from their food, eat more slowly, and tend to consume less calories overall. A study published in the Journal of Obesity suggests that mindfulness when eating can even help you prevent weight gain without dieting, when combined with stress reduction techniques. Stress increases levels of cortisol hormone, which promotes fat storage – especially of visceral fat stored around the internal organs and waist.
A total of 47 overweight or obese women who were experiencing long-term stress all attended one session about healthy eating and exercise. They were then randomised to either practice mindfulness or to act as a wait list control.
Those assigned to mindfulness attended nine weekly sessions in which they learned how to become more aware of their eating by focussing on taste satisfaction and recognizing when they were feeling hungry and when they were full. They were asked to set aside 30 minutes a day to practice meditation exercises and to eat mindfully during every meal. They were also treated to a silent meditation retreat for a day to help them really relax
Those who received the mindfulness training had significantly lower cortisol levels after waking and maintained their body weight, while those in the control group maintained stable cortisol levels and continued to gain weight. Overall, the women who experienced the greatest reduction in stress also experienced the greatest loss of belly fat even thought they were not following a calorie counting diet.
Mindful eating exercise
Mindfulness encourages you to focus on the present moment. You pay close attention to everyday activities such as preparing food or eating, and concentrate on the look, smell, texture and taste of each bite of food. This prevents your mind spinning off and dwelling on negative, stressful thoughts.
To eat mindfully, don’t do anything else at the same time. Don’t read the newspaper or watch TV – focus solely on eating the food. To experience mindful eating, find a crisp, sweet, juicy apple and do the following exercise.
Sit comfortably, breathing slowly and deeply in a relaxed manner. Pick up the apple and note its colour, shape and texture. Inhale deeply and focus on its complex scent. Place the apple against your lips and explore the waxy texture of its skin with your tongue.
Now take a single, slow bite. Note the initial resistance as your teeth cut through the skin into the crisp flesh. Feel the juice squirt into your mouth or dribble down your chin.
As you chew, focus on the sounds that fill your head. Notice the sweet, fruity, sharp taste, and the texture of the flesh as it falls apart. Continue to chew and extract as much flavour as you can before swallowing each bite.
Mindful eating can help overcome food cravings and resist a snack attack.
Have you tried mindful eating? Has it helped you control your weight?