Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

December 17, 2017
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Thought for food

How we eat and what it does to our waistline

Our search for an answer to the obesity crisis has been focused on combinations of foods, exercises and medical and genetic causes of this disease. Recently, though, researchers have entered a new domain: how we eat.

In previous generations, when people were thinner, we ate three meals a day at regular intervals. They were consumed with a certain amount of ceremony and reverence. Time and energy were put into planning, choosing recipes, shopping and preparing the food. We lingered at the table and enjoyed the meal. Today, we live in a grab-and-go reality. We’re encouraged from a young age to get eating out of the way so we can go on to more “important” activities like working, playing or even driving.

New research now suggests that this type of mindless eating is the underlying cause of some of our overeating. A study done by a team at Thomas Jefferson University showed that participating in a mindful-based stress-reduction program helped people with type 2 diabetes reduce their hemoglobin A1C levels as well as their blood pressure.1

Another study, done by Dr Bruce Smith of the University of New Mexico, suggests that training in mindful eating can reduce binge eating.2 Mindful eating helps patients who have undergone weight-loss surgery achieve their goals while developing a new relationship with food.3

Researchers are also studying how the rate that we eat influences satiety. In the past year, a few studies have shown that eating slowly results in a lower calorie intake. One study in particular led by Dr Kathleen Melanson (2008) found that eating slowly caused participants to consume about 65 calories less per meal.4 While it was initially thought that the decrease in consumption was only due to behaviourial changes, Dr Alexander Kokkinos (2009) discovered that there are actual physical changes happening when we eat differently.5 The faster we eat, the slower our bodies secrete the hormones that make us feel full. This means that if you eat the same amount of food in 30 minutes as you do in 10 minutes, you’ll feel fuller after eating slower. Most school-lunch programs only allow between seven to 11 minutes!

However, being a mindful eater is not only about eating slowly. A mindful eater is aware of the total experience. Here are some tips to becoming a more mindful eater.

1. Think of eating as a process that includes preparation, a pause before eating, the actual eating and the end of the meal. Try to become aware of each of these steps.

2. Eat sitting down, without a book or newspaper, computer or TV.

3. Use all your senses. Look at the food, smell it, evaluate its temperature. Take time to notice your surroundings. All this helps you enjoy a pleasurable experience and ultimately reduce your intake.

4. Eat with your non-dominant hand. This technique will not only slow you down, but help you become aware of taste, biting and swallowing — the whole act of eating.

During the holidays, take time to pause before you eat your meals to appreciate the effort that went into its preparation. Savour your food and enjoy the company around you. The end result will be less overeating. You’ll feel better, happier and less stressed.

References

  1. Rosenwig, Stephen et al, Altern Ther Health Med. 2007; 13(5):36-38.
  2. Smith, Bruce W. et al, Complementary Healthy practice Review, Vol 11, No. 3, 133-143 (2006).
  3. Bly, Terri PsyD, Hammond, Megrette MEd, RD, CDE; Thomson, Roger PhD, and Bagdade, Paul PhD; Bariatric Times, Nov/Dec., 15-17, 2007.
  4. Melanson, Kathleen J. et al, J Am Diet Assoc. 2008; 108: 1186-1191.
  5. Kokkinos et al. The Endocrine Society (2009, November 4). Eating Quickly is Associated with Overeating, Study Indicates. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 21, 2009, from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/11/091104085230.htm

For a good general overview on mindful eating: Mathieu, Jennifer; Journal of the American Dietetic Association, December 2009, Vol 109, Issue 12, Page 1982-85

This article was accurate when it was published. Please confirm rates and details directly with the companies in question.

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