Mindful Eating — A Silver Lining to Overweight People
Obese population has been increasing among different parts of the world. According to World Health Organization (2018) "worldwide obesity has nearly tripled since 1975". It is common to see overweight and obese people struggle with weight loss but get frustrated with their unsuccessful results.
As early as in year 1999, a depressing news was reported by New York Times that many people attempted to lose weight, however, over 90 percent regained it (Fritsch, 1999). Besides, certain diseases are commonly found among overweight population, such as cardiovascular diseases; diabetes; musculoskeletal disorders and some cancers including endometrial, breast, ovarian, prostate, liver, gallbladder, kidney, and colon (World Health Organization, 2018).
This article will explore the psychological causes of overeating habit and how positive mental health could help preventing obesity. Some scientific studies showed that mindful eating can help overweight and obese people to eat healthier so they can lose weight easier because of mainly three impacts including the slow-down of eating speed; less consumption of high-calories food and to get rid of food addiction successfully.
A brief introduction to Mindfulness and Mindful Eating
For someone who firstly hear the term of “mindfulness” may feel it a bit abstract, or may wonder is that something related to Zen or Buddhism. Actually there could be a lot of different definitions because mindfulness are commonly used among experts from different fields and countries. In this article, I will mainly adapt to the definition from clinical psychology.
Mindfulness is a status of being fully aware of one’s body; soul and mind; living in the present moment; being attentive to the surrounding environment nonjudgmentally.
A mindful person is usually clam; concentrated and steady. When the concept and techniques of mindfulness are applied to eating habit, that is so-called “mindful eating”.
Mindful eating is the practice of healthy eating habits under full-awareness and with full-sensations. In other words, a person who are practicing mindful eating will eat slowly; fully chew and taste the food thoroughly. Eat with full sensations means a person will observe the smells; textures; colors; flavors and cultures of food. Eat with full-awareness means a person will get rid of all distractions from the environment like television or cell phone; etc... but paying full attention to the eating habit and process.
How our eating habits influence our body shape?
It seems quite common that fat people who want to lose weight will always seeking for some effective methods, perhaps a diet pill; workout style (in which they believe can burn out fat rapidly and effectively); treatment or some other help from experts. However, it seems less common for them to seriously reflect on their own eating habit. In another word, many fat people consciously or unconsciously would like to keep their original eating habits unchanged, but to do something extra in order to lose weight. Many people regained their lost bodyweight because they even eat more after exercise or diet. That is just a simple mathematics – no need to be an expert, everyone can imagine what the result will be.
As just briefed above, mindful eating is the practice of healthy eating habits. Although mindful eating originally was not designed for a keep-fit purpose, this article will explore how its impacts would finally be helpful to someone who wish to lose weight.
Firstly, when people practicing mindful eating, they chew and eat slowly. Since the process of digestion involves different parts of human bodies including gut and nervous system, it generally takes at least 20 minutes for human brain to feel satisfied and stop desiring for more foods. If eating too fast, before the satisfying signal appears on brain, people already have eaten too much. The advantage of eating slower is not only eat less but also enjoying more the taste as well as well absorbed as foods are well chewed before swallowing into stomach.
The second reason why people lose weight during the practice of mindful eating is the reduction of high-calories food. The result of a study approved by the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) in 2015 showed that mindful eating successfully helped people eat less high-calories food. Another clinical research also showed that mindful awareness skills moderate emotional eating of fattening food (Fox, Conneely, & Egan, 2017). With the increase of awareness level, people feel easier to regulate their unhealthy eating habits by the inner strength from soul rather than relying on external stimulus.
The third important factor is mindful eating helps people get rid of food addiction. Duke University and Indiana State University studied on 150 binge eaters, the results showed that those participated mindful eating enjoyed food more while less struggled about controlling their intake volume (Kristeller, 2011).
Another experiment conducted in France invited totally 111 participants, separated them into three group: normal weight; overweight and obese. It was found that the intensity of negative emotions including frustration; guilt and uneasiness aroused by delicious food among the obese group is higher than both the overweight and normal-weight group. (Barthomeuf, 2018). Restriction always leads to bingeing, people feel difficult to self-control when they are suffering from negative emotions.
Why we should try Mindful Eating?
Some people spend lots of money to buy diet pills for weight loss, some choose to join expensive weight management programs. Compare with the above methods, practice of mindful eating appears to be much more cost-effective as it does not require money to buy any special products.
Mindfulness can be practiced anytime and anywhere, safe and convenient, no harm to environment, no side-effect for human body. It helps people to maintain a stable emotion and a higher self-reflection so they can enjoy foods in a pleasant and healthy way.
Advantage of Mindful Eating
✓ Save money from buying junk foods and snacks
✓ Save medical cost
✓ No Side-Effect
✓ No limitations - Practice anytime and anywhere
✓ Increase concentration
✓ Enjoy your meal in a pleasant way
✓ Regain a peace of mind
✓ Effective weight management (not easily bounce back)
Further Reading: World Health Organization (2018, February 16) | Obesity and overweight.
Barthomeuf, L., et al. Obesity and emotions: Differentiation in emotions felt towards food between Food Quality and Preference (2008), doi:10.1016/j.foodqual.2008.07.005
Davis, C., Curtis, C., Levitan, R. D., Carter, J. C., Kaplan, A. S., and Kennedy, J. L. (2011). Evidence that ‘food addiction’ is a valid phenotype of obesity. Appetite 57, 711–717. doi: 10.1016/j.appet.2011.08.017
Fritsch, J. (1999, May 25). 95% Regain lost weight. Or do they?. New York Times.
Lerma-Cabrera, J. M., Carvajal, F., & Lopez-Legarrea, P. (2016). Food addiction as a new piece of the obesity framework. Nutrition Journal, 15(5).
Siervo1, M., Wells, J.C., & Cizza, G. (2009). The Contribution of Psychosocial Stress to the Obesity Epidemic: An Evolutionary Approach. Horm Metab Res 41(4): 261–270. doi:10.1055/s-0028-1119377.
Tice, D.M., Bratslavsky, E., & Baumeister, R.F. (2001). Emotional distress regulation takes precedence over impulse control: If you feel bad, do it! Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 80, 53-67.
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