By Victoria Shanta Retelny, R.D., August/September 2006
Can fully tuning in to the experience of eating help you shed pounds? “Most people eat on automatic pilot,” says Jean Kristeller, Ph.D., professor of psychology at Indiana State University in Terre Haute. For over 15 years, Kristeller has been studying Mindfulness-Based Eating Awareness Training (MB-EAT)—a system that uses meditation and insightful eating exercises, such as chewing food slowly and assessing feelings of hunger or fullness with every bite, to teach people to pay attention to satiety cues. In 1999, Kristeller published a pilot study showing that MB-EAT resulted in women reducing binge-eating episodes from an average of four times a week to one and a half. Her latest research suggests that mindful eating could also aid in weight loss. Read our full story about Kristeller’s “enlightened” eating approach in the August/September issue. But, first, try the following mindfulness-based exercise.
What to eat? Make up your mind… fully.
Learning to identify the point at which one feels full is fundamental to eating mindfully, but training yourself to choose foods purposefully is equally important. To that end, Kristeller offers this exercise:
Fill a bowl with trail mix. Thoughtfully, select two different pieces (say, a cashew and a chocolate candy). Why did you choose these two particular pieces? Choose one of the two pieces to eat mindfully. Notice its taste and texture—as well as thoughts that surface as you’re chewing. Now eat the other piece mindfully. How did your experience of eating the first piece affect your enjoyment of the second? There are no right answers; the point is to begin to cultivate an awareness of how you choose foods, which ultimately may make it easier to derive satisfaction from smaller portions. For example, that you tend to label some foods as “healthy” and others as “fattening” may explain why you can’t stop at a small portion of, say, ice cream: if after one bite, you think “I’ve already blown it,” you might just keep eating. And once you understand the behavior, you can start to change it.