“Mindfulness” is a buzzword these days—the latest fad based on ancient precepts.
Yoga, of course, is a mindful practice now entrenched in modern culture. “Mindful meditation” (which sounds redundant) is taking hold.
The Wall Street Journal recently ran an article about mindfulness in psychotherapy. And you’ve probably started hearing talk of mindful eating.
Although the utility of mindfulness for weight control is not yet proven, a study funded by the NIH did find it helpful in controlling binge eating.
Mindless eating, however, is well studied. Brian Wansink, Ph.D., who studies it in relation to consumer behavior, is a thought leader on the subject and the author of Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think. Wasink is spreading the word about how much environment and packaging influence our food intake. (Love this title of one of his articles: Bad Popcorn in Big Buckets: Portion Size Can Influence Intake as Much as Taste.)
In a paper titled From Mindless Eating to Mindlessly Eating Better Wansink points out that many of us—even people who should know better, such as nurses and nutritionist faculty members–don’t realize how much we eat and how much we are influenced by environmental cues. He cited a study in which Parisians and Chicagoans were asked how they knew they were through eating dinner. The Parisians said when they were no longer hungry or the food no longer tasted good. The Chicagoans said when their plate was empty or the TV show they were watching was over.
Then there’s a recent study out of the University of Bristol that found that people who played a video game while eating lunch didn’t feel as full when they finished eating as people who simply ate. And the gamers were likely to snack on more cookies later.
Not good. I eat many meals in front of the computer or TV. I also eat fast, cleaning my plate before I even notice I’m eating. So I’ve been dabbling in The Self Compassion Diet: A Step-by-Step Program to Lose Weight with Loving-Kindness by Concord, Mass.-based psychotherapist and weight-loss expert Jean Fain. (Who, full disclosure, is Facebook friend via a writers’ group we belonged to.) This “diet” is less about what you eat than how, and it has four components: mindful eating, self compassion, hypnosis, and social support.
Following Fain’s program, I kept a food diary for a couple of days, recording what I ate when, my mood, and hunger level. One day, while recording a snack, I paused to consider my hunger and realized I was ravenous–far beyond what a snack could handle. And so instead of the apple or whatever pious nibble I’d planned, I had a tuna salad sandwich. Which I wolfed. Who can eat slowly when you’re that hungry? Clearly one of my issues is not paying attention to my hunger. Good information.
For all our hand-wringing about our bodies and the many conflicting messages we get about weight control, we seem to have tuned out the real expert in what we need to be healthy: our own bodies. If we learn to listen to them, maybe we can tune out the rest.