Use Mindful Eating to Succeed With Your Weight Loss Resolution

It's a new year, and everything seems possible again, even finally losing that extra weight. Congratulations on committing to improve your health. I'd like to give you some tools that will help you succeed with your goals.

Do you continue eating when you already feel full or find yourself eating even though you don’t feel hungry? For many people, weight gain happens when our hunger and sense of satiety (how full you feel) become disconnected from what we are eating. Mindful Eating is a strategy that aims to change people's eating behavior rather than the foods they eat. The focus is to be mindful of what you are eating. This will allow you to more fully enjoy the food you do eat, while eating less.

The first step to get back in touch with your satiety is keeping a food journal. I recommend keeping track of everything you eat and drink for at least a full week. Write down everything you eat, and rate on a scale of 1-10 (1 = starving, 10 = about to pop) how full you felt before and after eating. Many people find that simply writing down what they eat is enough to change their eating. You can find a simple food journal here. You should aim to eat only when you are hungry and stop when you are no longer hungry, but before you are full. The difference between no longer hungry and full is subtle and will take a lot of practice to recognize, but is essential in developing healthy eating behaviors. On a hunger scale of 1-10, what number is no longer hungry for you? What number is full?

Now that you are starting to become more aware of what you are eating, let's set some realistic goals. Only twenty percent of Americans who are able to lose weight, are able to keep it off for a year or more. The reason is, they use diets that require dramatic changes, and are often very restrictive. When you lose weight quickly your body adapts to the reduced energy intake, and lowers your metabolism leading to yo-yo dieting.  

I recommend you lose the weight slowly: aim for no more than a 10-15% weight loss in the first year. As little as a 5% to 10% weight loss can significantly improve your cholesterol, blood pressure, blood sugar, and lower your risk of cardiovascular disease and sleep apnea! Slow weight loss will not cause your body to alter its metabolism which leads to greater long term success. I know that now that you have made up your mind you want to see results fast, but patience will pay off in the long run. The following small behavior changes will result in an easy-to-follow diet leading to slow but steady weight loss.

An easy way to eat less is to simply use smaller plates. One study allowed subjects to serve their own meals in either standard 12" dinner plates  or smaller 9" plates. Not only did the subjects given smaller plates eat less food but they felt more satiated than those who used larger plates. This study has been repeated multiple times, and even works when the subjects know that people tend to eat more when using larger plates! It's such a simple change to make, and it can make a real difference in the amount you eat.

Another easy and small change is to stop eating out of open containers. It is difficult to know how much you eat when you eat straight from a bag of food or other container. Simply pour some onto a plate or into a small ziplock bag for a travel snack. Along the same lines, remove any bowls of snacks or food from the counters and tables of your home. The average person makes over 200 decision about food each day! The less food you have lying around, the fewer decisions you'll have to make.

Exercise is extremely important during weight loss. With muscles it's true that if you don't use it, you lose it. Even if you are losing weight, you will still feel heavy if you are also losing muscle. I recommend at least 30 minutes of exercise every day. You don't have to do it all at once, it can be 5 minutes here, 10 minutes there, as long as it adds up to 30 minutes a day. This could be as simple as taking a brisk walk.

I recommend setting one nutrition and one exercise goal per week. An example of a nutrition goal could be to stop drinking sugary beverages like soda, or to try one new vegetable. An exercise goal could be to take the stairs instead of the elevator at least once per day.

Good luck, and don't lose heart. You can do this, but it will take time. Please leave comments with any questions, as well as what has worked for you. If you would like to learn more about Mindful eating I highly recommend Brian Wansink's Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think.