Well-Being//

Are Your Eating Behaviors Hurting Your Health?

Are you a distracted or mindful eater?

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Everywhere you turn it seems as though there are ads for different weight loss plans, diet books, pills and cleanses, yet people can’t seem to lose weight. While some people are successful in achieving their weight loss goals initially, over time many often regain the weight they originally lost.

Below are several behaviors associated with weight loss and weight gain. Having a better understanding of behaviors associated with beneficial outcomes can help you get on the right track for success.

Self-Perception and Strategies for Success

Often times the way we perceive ourselves may not be based entirely in reality. Some may see themselves as at their ideal body weight, not realizing that they actually may be considered overweight or obese. On the other hand, some may look in the mirror and struggle with their physical appearance. No matter how much they diet, exercise and restrict themselves, they will always perceive themselves as overweight even if they aren’t.

How can these altered perceptions hinder weight loss efforts? Healthy weight misperception in adults is associated with less physical activity and less likelihood of attempts at weight loss. Further, people who report being less confident in achieving their goals or have appearance-based motivation for weight loss are more likely to discontinue weight loss treatment (1). Even just feeling overweight is associated with poor eating habits.

So, start by figuring out what your healthy body weight should be — this can be done simply by calculating your body mass index or BMI for short.

Having a realistic starting point, and one not based on perceptions is important. Although BMI is not a perfect measure, it is the most common way to assess your weight and quite easy to figure out. From there, evaluate WHY you want to engage in healthier eating behaviors and all the benefits associated with adopting new behaviors- and don’t focus only on physical based improvements. Aim for behavioral changes that are enjoyable and realistic, and start small. Set goals and keep track of what you actually did so you hold yourself accountable. Make sure to have coping strategies in place to deal with small setbacks- because NO ONE is perfect, and having strategies in place is associated with long-term weight loss success.

Next, think about what type of eater you are:

Are You a Distracted or Mindful Eater?

Did ever reach for another bite, and realize there was none left? Or wonder how you finished the entire sleeve of chocolate chip cookies during a movie? Or, do you find that when you eat, you’re fully aware of what you are eating? You allow yourself to focus on the texture of the food, the smell, the color, and the taste. Most people relate with the first 2, indicating that it may be a good time to start practicing mindful eating. Mindfulness has not only has been shown to promote well-being in psychological conditions, but also has been used for treating eating disorders, with good results. It may promote more exploration of experiences, improve emotional responsiveness and is associated with an overall positive state of mind. Practicing mindfulness when eating improves the overall physical experience of consuming a particular food and increases the enjoyment related to eating.

One recent study measured the effects of mindfulness on eating behaviors. Participants in the mindfulness group were given chocolate and told:

“While you are eating the chocolate, it is very important that you focus your attention on the sensory experience of tasting the chocolate. Focus on the various sensations you experience such as the color, texture, scent, and flavor while tasting and fill your head with the details of these sensations….”

The authors found that the participants in the mindfulness group ate fewer calories from all food groups, including junk food when compared to the participants in the control group (2).

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On the other hand, eating while distracted, which is how most people eat (talking, walking, reading, watching TV, texting…) seems to have to opposite effect. It’s easier to eat more calories when distracted because your not paying attention to the overall sensory experience or the actual amount that you’re eating. This in turn leads to eating more than you planned, and over time, weight gain. However, the only time cognitive distractions seem to be helpful is if you are one of those people who are highly sensitive to food temptations and find yourself in an environment where you are surrounded by palatable foods — think bakery. In this case, when all your attention is not given to food cues, there seems to be a reduction in craving.

So, the next time you are actually eating, think about what you’re eating and how it makes you feel- but if you plan to meet up with a friend for coffee, and it happens to also be a café with coffee and desserts, make sure to distract yourself to fight off cravings.

Now it’s time to reflect on your own health related behaviors. Adapting some of these behaviors and having a more positive and realistic outlook will go a long way.

References:

1. Dalle Grave R, Calugi S, Marchesini G. The influence of cognitive factors in the treatment of obesity: Lessons from the QUOVADIS study. Behav. Res. Ther. 2014;63C:157–161.

2. Arch JJ, Brown KW, Goodman RJ, Della Porta MD, Kiken LG, Tillman S. Enjoying food without caloric cost: The impact of brief mindfulness on laboratory eating outcomes. Behav. Res. Ther. 2016;79:23–34.

Appreciation is extended to Kristen Criscitelli for drafting this post

Dr. Nicole Avena is a research neuroscientist and author in the fields of nutrition, diet and addiction. Check out more about her books, research and services at her website www.drnicoleavena.com. Tweets and FB @DrNicoleAvena


Originally published at www.psychologytoday.com.

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