Printed in the March 2010 Tampa Bay Wellness.
When thinking of Buddha, one tends to picture an imposing laughing man with a rotund belly. Weight loss is likely the furthest thing from your mind. Yet modern science is making a connection between some of Buddha's teachings and weight loss. In fact, research suggests that in addition to providing peace of mind and improving health and wellbeing, meditative practices can also impact your waistline.
One such approach has been developed by Psychologist Dr. Jean Kristeller, a professor at Indiana State University, whose work was featured in the February 2009 issue of Time Magazine. For the past 20 years, Dr. Kristeller has studied the relationship between psychological variables, illness and health. The result of her life's work is a mindfulness approach to eating called Mindfulness Based Eating Awareness Training (MB-Eat). This approach has been studied through grants from the National Institute of Health at the University of Indiana, Duke University, and the University of Pennsylvania. The research demonstrates that mindfulness mediation can help individuals self-regulate eating behavior, lose weight, and maintain their results.
Mindful eating is a simple but radical approach to living that is not about depriving or overindulging one's self. With most diet programs, the more one struggles the more intense the struggle becomes. Diet plans tend to focus on the few things one is "allowed to have," which creates a sense of deprivation. Both overeating and diets tend to focus on the obtaining and eating food, rather than enjoying and experiencing it. When we sacrifice what our food has to offer for the temporary satisfaction of eating, the food we crave is not fully enjoyed. This eating behavior that is so well learned that we continue on the diet and indulgence treadmill, experiencing shame, blame and guilt, promoting the very behavior we want to change.
With mindful eating, one becomes more aware and accepting of the struggle with food and gains mastery over experiences by paying attention, noticing one's breath and being more present in the moment, as opposed to living for the moment. Mindful eating is a nonjudgmental approach that involves acceptance and dedicating special attention to one's thoughts, feelings, and behaviors towards eating. It is about attending to one's biological rhythms while learning the differences between those rhythms and emotionally driven, short-term desires. Mindful eating is about changing one's relationship with food so that one can fully experience the act of eating and savor the experience. Satisfaction is obtained through appreciating the joys and pleasures of eating rather than by the quantity of food. If Buddha spoke to us today about eating and dieting he would likely remind us that eating, like all pleasure, is temporary and short lived. Eating should be a cherished aspect of life, but not its focus.
Dr. Diego is among a hand full of professionals trained by Dr. Kristeller in the full MB-Eat program. He maintains a private practice in Westchase. To learn more about mindful eating and MB-Eat go to www.balancedlivingpsychology.com