Helping people try to lose weight is big business. Americans spend close to $60 billion a year on weight loss products, according to the Bharat Book Bureau, a business data firm. That includes everything from diet soda to special meal plans.
While obesity statistics show that a lot of us really need to shed some pounds, there's a growing belief in diet circles that it's not so much what you eat, but how you eat it.
“You can eat anything you want, as long as you do it mindfully,” said Lynn Rossy, a health psychologist for the Total Rewards Program at the University of Missouri system.
The key word there is “mindfully.” Mindfulness, which has its roots in Buddhist teachings, is a philosophy that has taken hold in many areas of life, so it isn't surprising that it's being harnessed to help people lose or control weight.
Mindfulness is based on living in the moment, being totally aware of your experience. It is being used to help people reduce stress and and focus on what they are doing, to make them happier and more productive. So, how does that translate to eating?
“Mindful eating means choosing food that will satisfy you and nourish your body as well as being aware of physical hunger and satiety cues,” Rossy said. “Food should be pleasurable to your taste buds and to your body.”
It's an abrupt departure from restricting calories by eating foods you might not particularly like but that are low in calories. Rossy says the mindfulness-based eating solution teaches people how to use their own internal signals to guide how, when, what, and why they eat. More importantly, she says you should eat food you like, just not as much of it.
That's easier to do, she says, when you are slowly savoring each bite and enjoying it. As a result, she says people are more satisfied and less likely to overeat. Here are the key elements:
- Do a breathing exercise and decide if you are really hungry
- Assess your food and decide if you really want to eat it
- Eat slowly and be aware of signals your body might send suggesting you are full
- Chew thoroughly
- Savor what you are eating
“Diets do not work in the long term because they do not help people access their own internal wisdom about how to eat,” Rossy said. “Taking a mindful approach to eating also helps people discover desires that can be ignored through eating for emotional reasons—desires for creativity, movement, connection, meaningful work and spirituality.”
It may be no coincidence that Fortune Magazine reports the diet industry is losing ground, even as the obesity rate rises. It conducted a survey last year that found many more consumers say they are trying to eat healthier than say they are on a diet.