A new study showed that eating mindfully, meaning choosing and savoring food away from the distractions of television and computer, could help people lose weight.

A new program in the U.S. tells people they can eat whatever they want, whether it is high-calorie, fattening foods or not. However, they must eat the food mindfully, thinking about nothing more than the enjoyment of eating their food, although not necessarily finishing the entire meal.

Image credit: Allied Nutrition

The findings were presented in a paper at the European Congress on Obesity in Porto, Portugal.

Mindful eating can substantially help with weight loss

Carolyn Dunn from North Carolina State University and one of the authors of the new study said that they instructed people to eat the foods they love, not to give them up but to eat them in a mindful way.

“For example, if one of us was going to eat a food that has very high calories, we would tell them to eat one or two bites, but to eat those one or two bites with awareness, so they are getting the most pleasure out of those one to two bites,” said Dunn, according to The Guardian.

Dunn said that other research has shown that those first two bites are associated with the most enjoyment and that eating more will translate into more calories but no more satisfaction. She cited for example that if a person preferred a chocolate mousse, they would advise them to eat it with mindfulness and purpose and to enjoy those first few bites. She noted that participants didn’t have to waste food, as they advised them to share it, take it home with them or to buy the food in smaller amounts.

The commercial program, known as “Eat Smart, Move More, Weight Less,” lasts 15 weeks. Dunn and her colleagues enrolled 80 people in the program: 42 were immediately put into the program, and the remaining 38 were part of the control group, who were told to wait to join after the first group finished their 15 weeks.

Mindful eating refers to eating with awareness and purpose

Participants in the mindfulness program lost an average of 1.9 kg over the 15 weeks. The participants on the waiting list were eager to join and assumed to be trying other methods of losing weight, which resulted in them losing an average of 0.3 kg.

“Mindfulness is paying attention to your surroundings, being in the present moment,” said Dunn, according to The Guardian. “Mindful eating is eating with purpose, eating on purpose, eating with awareness, eating without distraction, when eating only eating, not watching television or playing computer games or having any other distractions, not eating at our desks.”

Image credit: Luciagiombini.com
Image credit: Luciagiombini.com

Dunn noted that they talk about those aspects to get people to move away from eating with distractions and towards eating with more awareness and purpose. She claimed that people did increase their mindfulness and they did decrease their weight as a result of that awareness and purpose.

According to Dunn, mindfulness also refers to the way in which people shop for food, as well as how they order in restaurants.

“Are you letting your emotions drive your eating? Are you eating out of fear or depression? Are you letting external cues drive your eating because you are in line in the grocery store and that food is being heavily marketed to you?” asked Dunn regarding emotional eating.

Most of the ‘mindful eaters’ maintained or lost more weight

People who participated in the new study were not offered any diet sheet or even asked to count calories, according to the researchers. Each week they were compelled to talk about a different aspect of food and nutrition. Participants were also encouraged to walk and increase their physical activity.

The researchers found that after six months, around 75 percent of the participants had not regained the weight they lost in the program, and some even had lost more pounds. The results proved to be similar to the control group, once they were able to join the program themselves.

Mindfulness has proven to be helpful for weight loss and is of great interest for health improvement. However, little research has been conducted to assess the actual impact it has on weight loss or prevention.

According to the authors, the results of the new study suggest that there is a beneficial association between mindful eating and weight loss. They added that their study contributes to the mindfulness literature, seeing as there are very few studies that employed a rigorous methodology to examine and assess the effectiveness of an intervention on mindful eating.

Source: The Guardian