Posts Tagged ‘Mindful eating’

Willpower and Fun: a win-win combination

December 12, 2010

In a few weeks it will be January, and at least half the U.S. adult population will be groaning about how much they overdid the holiday spirit and how much they need to suffer to get back in shape. It doesn’t have to be that way.  Exercising willpower and self-control now can put you way ahead of the game later.  But how to do this and still have fun is the big question.

My take is there is no fun, in the long run, in acting as if there is no tomorrow.  This applies all year long, not just during a hectic holiday season.  Being mindful of the beauty and joy of this, and every other, season is what it takes to truly appreciate what we have.  Eating mindfully allows us to truly savor the good food.  Being fully present, and not rushed or distracted, when with friends and family enhances the good feelings (practicing mindfulness also helps combat depression; see here).  On the other hand, neglecting yourself (eating and drinking too much and not exercising) leads to bad feelings and regrets.

Willpower is a controversial topic, but should not be.  We all have it in varying degrees, and there is a lot we can do to get the most good out of it.  See these previous posts for some ideas.  Mainly, treat your willpower and self-control as a valuable but limited resource.  Don’t expose yourself to extreme amounts of temptation (see this study).  Strive for balance in your life, during holidays and all the rest of the time.  Finally, I suggest, don’t define “fun” as a continuous orgy of indulgence.  What is your definition of “fun”?

How many times a day should we eat?

May 26, 2010

I stated in my last post that we cannot trust “hunger” as a cue for when to eat. But how do we know when it IS time to eat?  For me, and I suspect for many others, the three-meals-a-day “rule” works well.  In fact, I believe that for most people who struggle with weight control, eating more often, “grazing,” or snacking between meals only adds to the problem.

Now, many of you believe that six or more small meals per day, or three meals plus two or three snacks, is best (e.g., see comment by Personal Trainer on my last post).  And for some people there is a medical reason for eating more often than three times per day (e.g., people with dyspepsia, GERD, hypoglycemia, etc.).  Some of these medical indications are valid, and some are not.  I won’t get into that here.  What I do know is that the more we snack, the more likely we are to consume excess calories (see this research report).

A survey reported this year in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that in the thirty years between the 1970s to the early 2000s, for adults and children, the average time between eating occasions shrank by one hour (most recently, 3 hours apart for adults and 3.5 hours apart for children).  Daily calories for both groups increased from roughly 2,090 in the 1970s to 2500 in the 2003 – 2006 period.

Calories from snacks more than doubled: for adults, from 200 calories per day in the 1970s to 470 calories in the recent time period; for children, from 240 to 500.  A significant portion of snack calories came from beverages.  It can be assumed that these numbers are underestimates, since surveys usually under-report the number of calories consumed.  [The above research was described in the May 2010 issue of Nutrition Action Health Letter]

It makes sense to me that the more often one eats, the more one is exposed to temptation and calories.  Also, we know that “willpower fatigue” occurs, so that the more often we have to decide what and how much to eat, the less “willpower” we are left with by the end of the day.

One known cause of overeating, which is also closely related to snacking, is “emotional eating.”  The solution to that problem is mindful eating, plus tending to emotional issues in a more appropriate way.

Personally, one of the most effective things I have done over the years to maintain my weight in a healthy range is to eliminate snacking.  It takes some getting used to — for example, eating dessert just before bed was a long time habit for me — but it really makes a difference.  And I haven’t developed hypoglycemia, insomnia, or any other health problem as a result.

If eating three daily meals (assuming the portions are reasonable and the food is mostly “healthy”) works to maintain weight, would two meals be even better?  Apparently not, according to several studies.  People who skip breakfast, for example, tend to weigh more than people who don’t.

Portion Distortion

June 20, 2008

Joe Average has lost over 50 pounds in the past four months, and one of the main ways he did it was to cut portion size. It is amazing how we all distort (underestimate) the amount of food we eat in a “serving.”  To really get a feel (with good visuals) of your own tendency to do this, check out the Portion Distortion site right now! Here is a bit more about portion size in an excerpt from Weight Management for Your Life:

Much research supports the fact that portion size is a major determinant of how much we eat. For example, Brian Wansink, Professor of Marketing and of Applied Economics at Cornell University, conducted several studies which showed that:

• Moviegoers ate 45% more popcorn when served in a large tub compared to a medium sized container.

• People watching a movie ate twice as much M&Ms from a large bag compared to a small bag.

• In neither of the above studies were the research subjects able to guess the number of calories they had consumed; people consistently underestimate the amount they eat.

• While people tend to acknowledge that portion size and container size may influence other people, they often wrongly believe they themselves are unaffected.

We all suffer from “portion distortion” when we estimate the amount of food we consume, not only at mealtime, but when we snack and eat without being mindful (automatic eating). To see whether you have this problem, check out the Portion Distortion Quiz on the Internet (http://hp2010.nhlbihin.net/ portion/).

Mindful eating vs. mindless munching

May 28, 2008

A recent article in The Wall Street Journal (May 13, 2008) provides an excellent overview of the growing body of information about “mindful eating.” Two quotes from the article will give you an idea of what all the excitement is about:

Chronic dieters in particular have trouble recognizing their internal cues, says Jean Kristeller, a psychologist at Indiana State, who pioneered mindful eating in the 1990s. “Diets set up rules around food and disconnect people even further from their own experiences of hunger and satiety and fullness,” she says.

“Try to eat one meal or one snack mindfully every day,” advises Jeffrey Greeson, a psychologist with the Duke program. “Even eating just the first few bites mindfully can help break the cycle of wolfing it down without paying any attention.”

The article highlights research which demonstrates that mindful eating can reduce binge eating. Research to test whether mindful eating can be taught in a way to help people lose weight or maintain a desired weight is underway.

Here are some more links to sites and books that discuss mindful eating and mindless munching:

Emindful

The Center for Mindful Eating

The Mindless Method program (Dr. Wansink)

the CAMP System (Control, Attitudes, Mindful eating, Portions)

book: Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think (by Brian Wansink)

helpful blog post on Emotional Eating and Mindful Eating

blog: Eat, Drink, and Be Mindful

book (by me): Weight Management for Your Life

There are many other resources and books about mindful eating, but these should get you started (I don’t have any direct experience with the programs listed above, but they look interesting; I do know Brian Wansink is an expert in the field of eating behavior).

I agree that mindful eating can be a powerful tool and one of several ways we can take more control over our lives and the decisions we make.

Please write a comment about your experience with mindful (or mindless) eating.