Mindful eating and the weight loss puzzle

By Lindsay Bast in Health & Fitness

A relatively common reason for people to visit Naturopaths is for weight loss. If you have ever looked for a ‘diet’ you will know there is no shortage of advice. Low fat, high carb. Paleo. Atkins. High fat, low carb. Metabolic diets. Eating for your blood type. The list of combinations and names is nearly endless. The truth is many of them can work, if they are followed faithfully and the goal is short term weight loss. But results are often variable and in the long run many people re-gain the weight just as quickly as it was lost.
I have used a program that incorporates a specific diet with several patients, and have also seen mixed results. For some people it is intuitively easy to follow and success is good. For others it is too complex, or too different from their usual way of eating. I often wonder, is there a missing piece to the puzzle? Calorie restriction, eating the right foods at the right times and physical activity are certainly all important pieces, but something seems to be missing.
As a naturopath, one of our guiding principles is that every person is different and needs an individualized treatment plan. Thus it should not be surprising that each person might respond differently to the same diet. I believe this is where the concept of mindful eating fits in.
Mindful eating falls within the broader picture of mindfulness and the idea that much of our lives are spent on auto pilot – without us being fully aware of what is happening or what we are doing. Mindful eating applies this idea specifically to food. I use myself as an example. The kids are finally in bed and I’ve finished any chores that need to be done. I sit down on the couch, maybe turn on the TV and grab a snack. All of a sudden, 20 minutes later I’m wondering, ‘where did that bag of chips go?’ Some other questions I might ask myself:
• Was I really hungry? Or was I bored, sad or lonely?
• Did I stop to reflect on what I was eating? Could I have made a different food choice?
• Where did the food come from? How did it actually taste?
• Am I now starting to feel full? What is ‘full’?
• Why did I turn the TV on? Did the TV distract me from what I was eating?
Simply thinking about these things before and while you eat is really all it takes to begin eating mindfully. It is important to point out that mindful eating isn’t just about losing weight (although research does show it can help), but rather about becoming more aware of our body signals, our emotions and habits around food. Many people are aware of some foods they eat that aren’t particularly healthy for them, yet they eat them anyway. Eating mindfully can start to bring awareness to the triggers and emotions that may be motivating someone’s eating habits. In some cases, this awareness can be enough to trigger significant, sustained dietary changes.
What could be more individualized than paying attention to what is actually happening to you, right now? Combining this awareness of your body with some specific dietary advice from a health care professional may be the missing piece to your weight loss puzzle.