Mindful eating associated with lower risk of weight gain

Over the last few weeks I have, as part of a book I am writing, embarked on a bit of an overhaul of my own diet. Apart from ‘tightening things up’ a bit, I’ve also decided (urged by my girlfriend) to slow my eating down and eat a bit more ‘mindfully’. I have generally been a ‘big’ and fast eater. I think being the youngest of five children, being generally served last and with the smallest portions has led to a degree of food insecurity and is the root of my speed-eating. The metabolism I had when I was young may have accommodated this. But now I’m 43, and I know I can’t get away with too much in the way of indiscriminate eating these days.

The cleaning up of my diet and some mindfulness when I eat (more about that in a moment) has worked ” I’ve lost 12 lbs (5.5 kg) in 6 weeks. While not all of this is fat, I’ve seen significant changes in my body fat measurements and shape. Bear in mind, I was not particularly overweight to begin with. Losing 12 lbs in 6 weeks is generally relatively easy if you’ve got, say, 60 lbs to lose. But in all honestly, I reckoned I had when I started I had 14 lbs to lose to get down to my ‘fighting weight’ and deflate the small spare tyre which had been accumulating around my waist over the last few years. So, to lose almost all of my excess weight in 6 weeks has been a dramatic result even I didn’t expect. And before you ask, I most certainly have not been starving myself. I’ve consistently eaten enough food to satisfy me properly, but no more.

What triggered me into writing about this today was the publication of a study in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association [1]. Previous work had found that individuals who engage in regular yoga were less prone to weight gain, but this didn’t seem to be related to dietary or exercise patterns. It was postulated that it might have something to do with yoga doers were more likely to eat mindfully.

This follow-up study explored this and discovered that those who practice you do indeed tend to be more mindful about their eating. For example, they tend to eat when they need to, and not just because they are anxious, stressed or bored. They also tend to know when they are full, and stop at that point. Another feature of eating mindfully is the habit of not focusing on things other than the food and its consumption while eating.

I love food, and really enjoy certain textures and flavours. But while I’m a ‘foodie’ at heart, I have traditionally not thought much about the food that I eat while I’m eating it. I’ve made a conscious effort to change this over the last 6 weeks. In particular, I’m taking time to slow down and savour food more. I swear this has allowed me very quickly to curb my life-long tendency to eat ‘mindlessly’. As a result, I’m not only eating better but eating less. Not once have I experienced undue hunger though.

Slowing down and savouring food has taken a bit of practice, but it’s been perhaps one of the most useful dietary changes I’ve made. I’ve realised that a few tactics can make establishing this habit easier. First and foremost, I strongly suggest not getting too hungry before meals.

A higher protein, lower carb diet will help here, but use of healthy snacking can play a part too. The danger time for many individuals is between lunch and dinner. For many individuals there are just too many hours between these two meals, and this often causes individuals to get too hungry at the end of the day. The cure is to eat something in the late afternoon or early evening. While fruit is hailed as the snack of choice, I disagree. The problem with fruit is that while generally healthy, it can often do little or nothing in terms of sating the appetite. In which case, it’s not really doing its job of tiding you over nicely to dinner. Better snacks are more sating ones such as nuts and seeds.

Also, it helps to be conscious of how much food you’re putting into your mouth. If you’re stacking your fork or piling your spoon high with food, you might want to re-think this. Make a conscious effort to keep each mouthful small and manageable. I wrote about this recently here.

Finally, and very importantly, chewing food thoroughly helps. I suggest making a conscious effort to chew each mouthful of food at least 20 times before swallowing. While you are chewing, put your cutlery down, and don’t pick it up again until you’ve fully chewed and swallowed the last mouthful.

References:

1. Framson C, et al. Development and validation of the mindful eating questionnaire. J Am Diet Assoc. 2009;109(8):1439-44.

12 Responses to Mindful eating associated with lower risk of weight gain

  1. Chris 5 August 2009 at 6:06 pm #

    I wonder what generalisations might be applicable to the general and wider activity levels of practitioners of yoga. Chris Evans is a fan, I believe.

  2. In a nutshell 5 August 2009 at 6:12 pm #

    So what you eat is important, how you eat is important, when you eat is important, knowledgeable snacking can be helpful, and perhaps wider sociological factors may have some bearing .. ?

    Seen this?

  3. Lore 5 August 2009 at 9:14 pm #

    Very interesting! and furthermore super important everything what you explain, I liked much, I I am fanatical to read subjects of diets, if somebody wants very important information that there am been investigating do not doubt in writing to me: loresevero@hotmail.com

  4. Janet 7 August 2009 at 1:05 pm #

    I wonder if this is enough to help rid the body of fat accumilated from menopause and or hypothyroid. Nothing seems to shift this fat.

  5. Margaret Wilde 7 August 2009 at 1:42 pm #

    Hi Janet,

    You may find that extra calcium would help. – The BBC2 showed a series of programmes a few years ago called “The Truth About Food” and I learnt about some Danish research which throws light on this. ” See http://www.bbc.co.uk/sn/humanbody/truthaboutfood/slim/calcium.shtml where you will read: “a high calcium intake increases the excretion of fat in the faeces”. ” In fact, the researchers found that twice as much fat was excreted on a high calcium intake as on a low calcium intake ” and this was independent of calorie intake. ” They also found that dairy calcium (they suggest low fat yoghurt) is a particularly good source for this extra calcium.

  6. Chris 7 August 2009 at 5:01 pm #

    @Janet,
    positive thinking, regular meals, controlled portions, intelligent snacking + frequent moderate exercise. Trawl around the archives here, Johns’ site is a goldmine.

  7. Linda 10 August 2009 at 5:31 pm #

    To add to Chris’s comment to Janet – and very little carbohydrate!

  8. simona 11 August 2009 at 5:56 pm #

    Well, I’m surprised that dr. Briffa had to lose fat, even if only 14 pounds and I’m surprised that he lost it so quickly just by eating mindfully. Full of surprises.
    I’ll definitely think about chewing more. I know that I’m not chewing enough and my only consolation is that it’s not carbs that I’m not chewing and that need the amylase in the mouth. When you have small children it’s hard to be zen at meal times.

    off topic but related to Dr. Briffa’s personal experiments. Do you know a good source of vit D3 for children in Ireland?

  9. Dr John Briffa 11 August 2009 at 8:49 pm #

    simona

    I wrote: “The cleaning up of my diet and some mindfulness when I eat (more about that in a moment) has worked ” I’ve lost 12 lbs (5.5 kg) in 6 weeks. While not all of this is fat…”

    Your wrote: “Well, I’m surprised that dr. Briffa had to lose fat, even if only 14 pounds and I’m surprised that he lost it so quickly just by eating mindfully.”

    Would you like to have another go?

  10. Trinkwasser 12 August 2009 at 12:07 am #

    Personal experience, but mirrored by many – when I was a carbophile I had to snack a lot. Strangely I remained a skinny bastard, but with the blood glucose, blood pressure and lipids of a fattie.

    These days with minimal carbs, lots of protein, saturated fat and veggies, I can go much longer without any thought of eating. I recently bought a load of snacky stuff, from radishes to hazel nuts and cherries, which I have hardly touched, I simply don’t get those ravenous hungers any more.

    I’m sure the quality of my food makes a major difference, mostly locally sourced and minimally processed.

    Here’s the weirdest one though, on the past I could double my strength (and halve it again even more easily) without any change in my appearance. Of late I actually seem to *look* more muscular.

    Mark Sisson wrote a bit about this

    http://www.marksdailyapple.com/gain-weight-build-muscle/

    Congratulations, you seem to have found the same effect!

  11. simona 12 August 2009 at 12:30 pm #

    Oh, dear, silly me, all those details, I should have said congratulations and keep my thoughts for myself. Sorry. I thought that your diet was already low carb and healthy, I didn’t think that you had to clean it up. See, my own prejudices made me read the post carelessly.

  12. Janet 14 August 2009 at 8:36 pm #

    Thank you Margaret for this link, very good and kind of you. I’m keeping at it along with the chewing.

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