The hypothetical gut-brain-gut communication from Part 1 of how mindful eating can help you achieve weight loss in practice.
After reading 5 Mindful Eating Tips to Wangle Yourself to Healthy BMI: Stomach Brain Axis, you should have a basic knowledge how food in the stomach influences your mood and food intake. You also have a pretty good grip on how brain function influences your stomach’s function.
Privy to this new information that has come to light, you are now ready to start a mindful eating program.
Fuhgeddaboudit! Normal Body Weight that Is!
Approaching weight loss with your normal body weight in mind, potentially sets you up for long-term failure. For example, for a morbidly obese man, the probability of achieving normal body weight within a year is 1 in 1,290. Clearly, if you told me that my weight loss plan involves shedding 119 lbs to reach normal body weight, I’d be horror-struck.
I’d defeat any and all attempts at weight loss in my head. It is simply too hard to wrap my head around of needing to lose the body mass of an entire, average sized, 16-year-old teenager. Luckily, there is a better solution to get and keep you motivated.
Fildes and colleagues (2015) also calculated the annual probability of attaining a 5% reduction in body mass (Table Below).
For the man in our example, the probability of attaining a 5% reduction in body weight within the next year dropped to 1 in 8. This weight loss goal is certainly a lot more realistic, encouraging, and achievable. Fildes and colleagues (2015) probability calculations back that up.
Table 1: Probability of Attaining 5% Reduction in Body Weight
Probability of 5% Weight Reduction
Probability of 5% Weight Reduction
|30.0 to 34.9||simple obesity||1 in 10||1 in 10|
|35.0 to 39.9||severe obesity||1 in 9||1 in 9|
|40.0 to 44.9||morbid obesity||1 in 7||1 in 8|
|45.0 or greater||superobese||1 in 6||1 in 5|
Studying Table 1, you probably observed that as the BMI category increases, paradoxically, the probability of achieving a 5% reduction in body weight increases as well. While in line with obesity research, this is also encouraging for people to at least start charting and starting a weight loss plan (Fildes et al., 2015).
Putting Mindfulness Research into Clinical Practice
Let’s take a look at what the weight loss plan might look like for a morbidly obese person. We’ll call him John. He is age 55, 5’8 (1.76 m) tall, and weighs 283 lbs (128.4 kg). His current BMI is 43.
A healthy BMI for John would be 24.9 (164 lbs). So, John’s weight loss goal is 119 lbs.
As discussed earlier, this is clearly a tall order, even for the most motivated person. However, if we approach John’s weight loss goal with the latest mindfulness research in mind, John’s weight loss plan shapes up quite differently.
Just like eating a meal, you do not eat the entire meal in on bite. You proceed, eating mindfully (if I successfully make my case) one bite at a time. So John’s first hurdle? A 5% reduction in body mass. John needs to lose “only” 14.5 lbs. Based on Fildes and colleagues the probability (1 in 8) of achieving this weight loss goal is rather good and realistic.
An interesting side note is that Fildes and colleagues (2015) did not plan to calculate probabilities for a 5% reduction in body weight when they penned their original study protocol. However, because a 5% reduction in body weight is a widely recommended target, Fildes and colleagues calculated the probabilities for this weight loss goal after all.
According to Blackburn (1995) clinical and laboratory evidence clearly supports the value of a modest weight loss goal. Weight loss as low as 5% has been shown to reduce or eliminate many disorders associated with obesity.
Here we go, one more reason not to focus too heavily on “ideal” body weight for right now! “Fuhgeddaboudit” and let’s recalculate John’s overall weight loss goal into small manageable steps. The formulas for the BMI calculations, with examples, are listed in Part 1 of this series.
Table 2: John's Overall Weight Loss Goal Broken Into Small Manageable Steps
|Steps to completion||Base Weight in lbs||5% Weight Loss Goal in lbs|
Remember, even a modest weight loss, such as 5 to 10 percent of your total body weight, can produce tremendous health benefits. It’s possible to see improvements in blood pressure, blood cholesterol, and blood sugars. Repeat after me:
“Modest weight loss can decrease my risk factors for chronic diseases related to obesity. Yes, I can achieve modest weight loss.”
Approaching a weight loss goal from this perspective is a bit more encouraging. Is it not?
Below are the tools to regulate your eating behavior allowing you to put one over obesity and pull off a healthier BMI. You can start with your next meal. No special skills needed.
Mindful Eating Tip #5:
Your Weight Loss Plan Begins with Sitting in Stillness
Here is how.
First off, you need to start laying a foundation for the practice of mindfulness meditation and subsequently, mindful eating. Unconditionally and nonjudgmentally accept where you are now. This is your starting point. This is your current reality. It does not serve you to ruminate in the past.
Try to avoid worrying about what might be in the future. It does not serve your goals. Projecting into the future causes unnecessary anxiety. You do not need that in your life now.
The past is gone; the future has not happened yet. The only place you have is right here, now. The present moment.
Eating in Stillness Prepares You for the Next 4 Mindful Eating Tips
With your next meal, begin by sitting in stillness. Don’t try to eat while conversing. Don’t try to eat a family meal if family meals tend to be crazy and full of distractions. For the next week or two simply try to eat each meal in stillness.
Don’t let yourself be distracted by your phone, your computer. Watching television, reading a newspaper while eating are all off limits while eating. Do not eat on the couch either. Eat at a table, sitting with both feet firmly grounded on the floor. Do not slouch. Assume a confident, upright seating posture while eating.
On the risk of becoming a bit redundant here. Let me write it again. There should be nothing to distract you from observing – nonjudgmentally – the many thoughts and emotions that will arise around food and obesity from the nutrients on your plate.
The sitting in stillness practice will allow you to continue to build your foundation of mindfulness. The skill-set that you will develop with the next 4 Mindful Eating Tips is all about being present, patient, compassionate and letting go of judgment. Let go of violence toward self around food and obesity, eating patterns, behaviors and emotions that you will undoubtedly become aware of.
You probably will notice that the biggest struggle you experience is the letting go of judgment and letting go of violence against the self.
To help you with that, Kessel (2015) brings the acronym of CARE to your eating practice. I like that because it can help you to avoid slipping into an abyss of frustration. Let me list the four step of CARE.
C: Checking In
A: Allowing Nonjudgmental Awareness
R: Responding to the Wandering Mind
E: Embodying Mindful Eating
And here is how you put CARE into practice at the dinner table.
Mindful Eating Tip #4
Checking In is part of any meditation practice. Checking In while trying to eat mindfully is pretty much the same. As you sit down to eat, Check In with your body to sense for cues of hunger and satiety. Check In to see what is going on before, during and after eating. Sometimes memories of food, emotional eating, and mindless eating get in the way of being aware and present with food (Kessel, 2015).
Remember what you learned about the gut and the brain in Part 1 of this series?
This is where we put research into practice. Mindful eating will allow you to become aware of your body’s cues to hunger, satiety and fullness. You’ll be able to become aware of the ever so subtle messages gastric tension receptors send from your gut to the brain.
Your brain and mind will bring these messages that influence appetite and mood to your conscious awareness. You want to be ready and receptive when those signals emerge. Becoming aware of these subtle messages from your gut brings us to Mindful Eating Tip #3.
Mindful Eating Tip #3
Allowing Nonjudgmental Awareness of the Present Moment
Now that you have become accustomed to “sitting still while eating,” you probably are aware of a plethora of thoughts surrounding your mindful eating experience. Becoming aware of the qualia of your food and diet thoughts is the important thing here.
Nonjudgmental awareness of the “what it is like” character of mental states around food that you perceive as “good” is paramount. Subsequently, “what it is like” and how does it feel like to eat “bad food?”
Cultivating and awareness around these thoughts and mental states will surely lead you to discover feelings of joy and suffering. Cultivating nonjudgmental awareness of food and diet qualia without reacting to these feelings and emotions will allow you to respond to food and diet in a different, healthier way.
An excellent point worth repeating:
“I will cultivate nonjudgmental awareness of food and diet qualia without reacting automatically and habitually!”
Mindful Eating Tip #2
Responding to the Wandering Mind
Undoubtedly, practicing mindful eating teaches you nonviolence toward self, your mind, and your body. Rather than constantly judging yourself, mindful eating practice inspires you to treat yourself and your mind with kindness and compassion (Kessel, 2015).
Eventually, mindfulness and mindful eating will require you to take action. Ultimately, mindfulness practice will help you realize that you are not your thoughts. You certainly won’t allow your “mind to drive the bus” anymore, won’t you (Kessel, 2015, p. 4)?
Presence and patience will allow you to respond naturally to the ebb and flow of food and diet thoughts. Responding with deliberate intention to your wandering mind guides your journey from now on. Responding intentionally also means that you act from a place of wisdom and less habitual behaviors (Kessel, 2015).
Once again, we are at the intersection of how eating food affects your brain. You already know that mindful eating can make you aware of the fullness and satiety cues your gut sends to the brain. However, when you come from a place of “Responding,” everything changes as you intentionally choose when and how you eat.
Rather than reacting automatically (mindlessly), mindful eating allows you to restore stomach-brain and brain-stomach communication. No longer are your signaling pathways that regulate hunger and satiation hampered (Holtmann & Talley, 2014).
Mindful eating helps you to break old patterns of automatically reacting. In other words, instead of continuing down the path and habit of mindless eating, or fostering an unhealthy relationship with food, you are empowered to choose by responding in a kind, compassionate way toward self.
Thus, responding by setting intentions for yourself, the practice of mindful eating will change your relationship with food, mind and body over the long-term (Kessel, 2015).
Mindful Eating Tip #1
Embodying Mindful Eating with a Mindful Eating Program
Embodying this newly found practice of mindful eating is certainly a way to take CARE of your mind, body and spirit (Kessel, 2015).
We based ACEF’s mindful eating program on research by Dalen, Smith, Shelley, Sloan, Leahigh, and Begay (2010). The team from the Oregon Research Institute’s branch in Albuquerque, New Mexico, undertook a study to investigate a brief 6-week mindful eating group. The curriculum was designed to offer mindfulness training to obese people. Dalen et al., (2010) called the project Mindful Eating and Living (MEAL).
Like Dalen and colleagues’ MEAL program, ACEF’s mindful eating program is also composed of six weekly two-hour group sessions. During the program, you receive support and training in mindfulness meditation, and mindful eating. ACEF’s program also includes group discussion and exploration of awareness of body sensations and emotional triggers to overeat.
Dalen et al. (2010) showed in their study that a mindful eating program can result in significant changes in weight, eating behavior, and psychological distress in obese people.
In the last two posts (read Part 1 here) I have laid out why we think a mindful eating program is a good long-term solution to tackling the problem of obesity. I have laid out probabilities of weight loss and provided 5 Mindful Eating Tips on how to increase your probability of successful weight loss.
You now have enough information to get started on your own. However, you might find yourself needing more help.
You Are Not Alone
A mindful eating support group, skillfully facilitated, can inspire strategies to deal effectively with the challenges that are part of your weight loss journey. Jim Gordon writes that the evidence on support groups is comparable to that for many mainstream interventions (Gordon & Edwards, 2005).
If you think you benefit from the support system offered by a small group, ACEF’s short, 6-week, mindful eating program is the perfect fit for you.
Our mindful eating groups are limited to 12 participants and designed to coach and guide you every step of the way during your transition from eating mindlessly to becoming a mindful eater for life.
The next, mindful eating program is forming now. Please contact ACEF for more information and dates we are going to offer the mindful eating, group.
Corporate Programs Available
An investment in the health of your employees produces exponential returns. As an employer, making health and wellness programs available to your employees will contribute to a healthier, more productive workforce. Here is an article in WIRED on how it is done in Silicon Valley. A must read for CEOs and HR reps alike.
ACEF can tailor innovative, evidence mind-body medicine programs to your company’s needs. Contact Werner to develop a Meditation Program, Stress Management Program, and/or Mindful Eating Program to your business’ unique needs. ACEF can help both you and your employees improve your bottom line.
Dalen, J., Smith, B. W., Shelley, B. M., Sloan, A. L., Leahigh, L., & Begay, D. (2010). Pilot study: Mindful Eating and Living (MEAL): Weight, eating behavior, and psychological outcomes associated with a mindfulness-based intervention for people with obesity. Complementary Therapies in Medicine, 18(6), 260–264. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.ctim.2010.09.008
Fildes, A., Charlton, J., Rudisill, C., Littlejohns, P., Prevost, A. T., & Gulliford, M. C. (2015). Probability of an Obese Person Attaining Normal Body Weight: Cohort Study Using Electronic Health Records. American Journal of Public Health, e1–e6. http://doi.org/10.2105/AJPH.2015.302773
Gordon, J. S., & Edwards, D. M. (2005). MindBodySpirit Medicine. Seminars in Oncology Nursing, 21(3), 154–158. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.soncn.2005.04.002
Holtmann, G., & Talley, N. J. (2014). The stomach–brain axis. Best Practice & Research Clinical Gastroenterology, 28(6), 967–979. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.bpg.2014.10.001
Kessel, S. (2015). Embodying the practice of mindful eating through meditation. Food for Thought Newsletter. Retrieved from http://www.thecenterformindfuleating.org/food-for-thought