By Meg Jordan, PhD, RN, CWP, ACC January 1, 2016
Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) and mindfulness meditation are becoming increasingly popular strategies to reduce stress and anxiety, and help people shift behavior and mindset toward a more peaceful sense of well-being. Formal courses of MBSR are taught everywhere from worksite wellness programs to hospitals, clinics, community centers, K-12 schools, and universities.
As behavioral scientists amount evidence about the neurochemical changes that mindfulness practice evokes, they are stretching the application of the simple mind/body exercise to areas formerly considered the domain of willpower alone. Dieting and weight loss ranks as the most frustrating endeavor for the millions who undergo repeat cycles of failure.
Now new research points to the effectiveness of mindfulness practice to tame the self-critical inner voice of dieters, smooth out the biochemical obstacles, and nurture a sustaining fuel for motivation and sticking with healthful dietary habits.
Health psychologist Ruth Q. Wolever, PhD, and dietician Ruth Reardon, MS, RD, LDN, co-wrote a Duke Integrative Medicine book, with Tania Hannan, The Mindful Diet: How to Transform Your Relationship with Food for Lasting Weight Loss and Vibrant Health, (Scribner, 2015). One of the supporting studies behind their strategies was published in 2011 (Kristeller & Wolever, 2011), "Mindfulness-Based Eating Awareness Training for Treating Binge Eating Disorder: The Conceptual Foundation" in Eating Disorders journal. Researchers found evidence that not only did their specifically-tailored mindfulness eating practice diminish depressive symptoms, but it decreased binge episodes and enhanced self-control.
The "Four Pillars of Healthy Eating" rests on the principles that healthful change requires awareness, intention, and a conscious, step-by-plan that includes decreasing the amount of inflammatory foods in the diet, restoring healthy blood sugar balance, eating whole fiber-rich foods, and eating a plant-based diet. Because most of these principles have been expressed by other good sense nutrition authors before, the uniqueness in this book is the way it teaches readers a fail-safe mindful approach to managing the emotional rollercoaster that dieters suffer.
Rewiring the neural circuitry through the author's "mindfulness toolkit" may do more for the "monkey mind" of dieting than the countless programs stressing simple behavioral tactics (chew slowly, put your fork down between bites, use smaller plates). While those are effective for a portion of dieters, they lack the depth of dealing with unexamined thoughts and emotions and derailing the sabotaging self-critique.
Try the loving kindness meditation Wolever and Rearson suggest before you eat something you swore you'd avoid just moments earlier. In your mind, repeat the mantra: May I be safe. May I be happy. May I be healthy. May I be kind. It will serve as a compassionate, non-judgmental inner health coach. Together with 20 Breaths Practice, mindfulness practice could shift your awareness to hearing what your body truly craves instead.
Kristeller, Jean L. and Wolever, Ruth Q.(2011) 'Mindfulness-Based Eating Awareness Training for Treating Binge Eating Disorder: The Conceptual Foundation', Eating Disorders, 19: 1, 49 - 61. DOI: 10.1080/10640266.2011.533605