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Try Mindful Eating for Weight Loss

As we head into the new year, many of you will be trying to lose weight. It’s the most common New Year’s resolution, and one of the hardest to stick to.

There are thousands of diets available, but one thing most of them have in common is a high failure rate. You may lose some weight in the beginning, but either reach a plateau and stop losing or even end up regaining the lost pounds.

So our primary care doctors at Cohen Medical Associates in Delray Beach would like to suggest an entirely different way of approaching food. Many people have found it helpful in dealing with overeating, eating disorders, and excess weight.

Changing habits, not menus

The technique is known as “mindful eating.” Its roots go back thousands of years and encompass the modern-day concept of mindfulness, adapted from the widely practiced Buddhist concept of being “present” in every moment. That is, giving your full attention to what you’re doing rather than having your thoughts scattered here and there.

In a paper published by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), researcher Joseph B. Nelson describes mindful eating as “an approach to food that focuses on the individuals’ sensual awareness of the food and their experience of the food. It has little to do with calories, carbohydrates, fat, or protein.

“The purpose of mindful eating is not to lose weight, although it is highly likely that those who adopt this style of eating will lose weight,” he says. “The intention is to help individuals savor the moment and the food and encourage their full presence for the eating experience.”

A different approach

This is a very different way of eating than most of us are familiar with. We gulp our food in a rush to get on with other things. Or we’re checking our phones or watching TV while we eat. Or we feel guilty because we’re eating something “they” say is “bad” for us. Many were raised as members of the clean-you-plate club, as though leaving food on the plate when we’re full will somehow insult the cook or help the starving children in some far-off country.

Has this ever happened to you? You begin eating one of your favorite foods, thoroughly enjoying the flavor, when after a few bites it doesn’t taste as delicious as it did at first. So, to try to recapture the experience of the first few bites, you eat more and more of it. Then before you know it, the food’s gone and you still crave more even though you’re full.

Those who promote the practice of mindful eating would say it’s because you didn’t slow down and appreciate every bite, savoring the complete experience of smell, taste, mouth sensation, and so on.

Start small

Experts suggest starting gradually with mindful eating, perhaps with one meal a day or a week, or even with a few snacks here and there.

Teresa T. Fung, a professor and director of the Didactic Program in Dietetics at Simmons University in Boston, and an adjunct professor of nutrition at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health explained to CNN the basics of how she practices mindful eating.

“When I’m going to eat breakfast, I’m not going to be holding my iPad and reading today’s news. I’m not checking my email. I’ll just sit in a quiet place—it could be a couch. I don’t have to sit at the dining room table,” she said.

Then she walked CNN through her morning coffee experience: She listens to the sound of her coffee maker as it brews her coffee, and notices the beverage’s aroma. She observes the color of the drink, its balance between cream and coffee. Next, she focuses on whether the coffee feels as warm in her mouth as the mug does in her hand, and pays attention to the flavor, and the texture of the liquid as she swallows it.

The weight connection

How does the practice of mindful eating help with weight loss? For one thing, it allows you to be better able to judge when you’re full. It generally takes about 20 minutes for the hormonal signals from the gut to reach the brain. This allows you to recognize when you’ve had enough to satisfy your hunger.

For another, it can help you distinguish between being hungry and using food to satisfy another mind state.

“Before reaching for something automatically, stop and take a moment to notice what you are feeling, and what you might want to fill you up,” suggests Nelson.

“Are you stressed, bored, angry, or sad? Are you lonely? Or are you actually physically hungry? Be mindful of your reactivity and make a choice instead,” he says.

Proponents of this way of eating believe that food is something to enjoy. It is not something to stress over or feel guilty about. Try it! You might find you’ve discovered new pleasure in the food you’ve been consuming mindlessly all your life.

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