There are many reasons why losing weight, the number one health goal in America, is the most elusive. Not the least of these reasons is the psychology of eating…because in the land of plenty, we eat mindlessly! Consider the facts; first, we blamed it on the fact that the food was unhealthy…but when we chemically modify the food such as removing or altering the fat or sugar and removing the calories, it failed to reduce our weight. In fact, it has been discovered that “fake sugar,” even thought it does not have calories, can still increase blood glucose levels. Next, we decided fat cells were the enemy but we failed to control our weight when we removed fat cells from our body through liposuction. Then, we decided the problem was our digestive system 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, without a change in behavior, it failed as a long-term solution. 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 in which focus is placed 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 discovered that mindful eating practitioners ate in silence and chew small pieces of food very slowly and deliberately to experience its taste, texture and smell. 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 not right or wrong way to eat but rather varying degrees of awareness about WHAT WE EAT AND WHY. Furthermore, 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. Research shows that, even when not perfectly relaxed, the simple act of the family meal can have a powerful impact on mindfulness, health and wellness.
In a country that thrives on a fast pace with over-book 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 find time to sit and relax for a family meal even once a week. Additionally, 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. 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 the 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||Mindful Eating|
|1. Eating past full and ignoring body signals||1. Listening to your body and stopping when full|
|2. Eating when emotions tell us to eat||2. Eating when our bodies tell us eat|
|3. Eating alone, at random times and places||3. Eating with others, set times and places|
|4. Eating emotionally comfort foods||4. Eating nutritious and healthy foods|
|5. Eating and multitasking||5. When eating, just eat|
|6. Considering a meal an end product||6. Considering where food comes from|
– by Christopher Willard PsyD
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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.