There are many reasons why losing weight, the number one resolution for the New Year, is the most elusive goal of all. Not the least of these is the psychology of eating . In the land of plenty, we eat mindlessly! Consider the facts. First, we blamed the food, thinking it was bad. But, when we chemically modify the food to remove or alter the fat or sugar and remove the calories, it fails to reduce our weight. In fact, it has been discovered that “fake sugar,” even though it does not have calories, can still increase blood glucose levels. Next, we decided that fat cells were the enemy, but when we removed fat cells from our body through liposuction, we failed to control weight gain. Then, we decided the problem was our digestive systems, so we placed bands or staples in the stomach or by-passed the small intestine. While these efforts helped many in the short run, long term, it failed as a long-term solution without a change in behavior. Many medical professionals have concluded that the problems people have with weight are not exclusively due to the food, fat cells, stomach or intestines, but rather, THE MIND!
Mindful eating, also referred to as intuitive eating, is based on Buddhist teachings which focus on the experience of eating, AND ENJOYING, our food. The concept was presented in a feature column in The New York Times written by Jeff Gordinier, based on his time spent in a Buddhist monastery. He learned that mindful eating practitioners eat in silence and chewed small pieces of food very slowly and deliberately to experience its taste, texture and smell. He discovered that it requires full attention to the experience of eating and drinking on the body and mind. It is often referred to as “the opposite of diets” because with mindful eating there is no right or wrong way to eat, but rather varying degrees of awareness about WHAT WE EAT AND WHY. The goal of this exercise is to teach our mind and body to connect and communicate while eating so one can learn important cues such as: what are my hunger signals? What does my stomach feel like when it is half, three-fourths and completely full?
One study of 1,400 mindful eaters found that they enjoyed lower body weights, greater sense of well-being and suffered from fewer eating disorders. However, many feel the concept, while valuable, is very difficult to put in practice in the busy American family. Fortunately, research shows that the simple act of the family meal can have a powerful impact on mindfulness, health and wellness, even if it isn’t a picture-perfect meal.
In a country that thrives on a fast pace with over-booked schedules, families struggle to balance work and school and after school sports and activities. Consequently, fast food, eat-and-go habits have become the norm. According to some studies, most find it difficult to sit and relax for a family meal even once a week. And often, when families do pull off a family meal, it is often overwrought with school drama, sibling rivalry, and parental discipline about school, homework or social activities, making the situation stressful. Even so, despite the family conflict, studies strongly support the health values of the family meal.
A recent study from Columbia University that received national attention found that children who participated in a family meal regularly were less likely to have problems with drugs or alcohol and more likely to excel in school. Moreover, those children eating with their families at least 5 times per week benefited most. Other studies have found that there is a significantly lower incidence of teens who smoke, use alcohol, have sex at a young age, fight, get suspended from school or commit suicide among those who have meals with their family on a regular basis.
Mindless Eating Vs. Mindful Eating
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This article is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. If you have questions related to your medical condition, please contact your family physician. For further inquires related to this topic email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Paul J. Mackarey PT, DHSc, OCS is a Doctor in Health Sciences specializing in orthopaedic and sports physical therapy. Dr. Mackarey is in private practice and is an associate professor of clinical medicine at Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine.