In a new study published in the Journal of Obesity, researchers at the University of California, San Franciso found that mastering mindful eating and reducing stress effectively prevented weight gain, even without dieting, and that the women who experienced the greatest reduction in stress lost the most belly fat. In a nutshell, mindful eating is about being aware of your eating patterns and thoughts rather than acting on autopilot.
In this study, 24 of the 47 stressed, overweight or obese women were randomly assigned to practice mindfulness, while the other 23 served as a control group. The mindful group participated in weekly sessions for nine weeks, which included an intense meditation retreat, stress reduction, learning to recognize hunger and fullness, and become more aware of taste. They were asked to spend 30 minutes a day meditating and practicing mindful eating. These women experienced significant reductions in cortisol, a stress hormone linked to an increased appetite and more belly fat, and were able to maintain their body weight while reducing belly fat. In contrast, the women in the control group continued to put on pounds and saw no reduction in cortisol.
If you're like a lot of my one-on-one clients you may be thinking, "I don't have 30 minutes a day to meditate!" I hear you. But in my private practice I have found that a little mindfulness goes a long way. Check out my previous post about how practicing eating slowly, even just once in a while, can help raise your eating antennae. You can even practice by eating chocolate!
After research found that a small dose of dark chocolate (70 percent cocoa or greater) each day effectively curbed cravings for both sweet and salty foods, I started testing this out with my clients. It worked so well I built it into the weight loss plan in my newest book S.A.S.S! Yourself Slim: Conquer Cravings, Drop Pounds and Lose Inches. I call it the "daily dark chocolate escape."The idea is to carve out a little time each day to enjoy some dark chocolate, about four small or two large tasting squares. But it truly has to be "you" time, without any distractions like the TV or a computer, so that you can savor the chocolate. Let it melt in your mouth and really pay attention to the flavor, texture, and aroma. The chocolate is protecting your health (click here for 10 reasons why), so there's no need to feel guilty. And this daily ritual is a form of mindful eating that can actually trigger you to slow down at other meals, and even help you catch yourself as you're about to reach for something you really don't want when you aren't even hungry. Pretty powerful stuff!
What do you think? Do you find yourself mindlessly munching, especially when you're stressed? Have you ever practiced mindfulness? Please share your thoughts or tweet them to @cynthiasass and @Shape_Magazine!
Cynthia Sass is a registered dietitian with master's degrees in both nutrition science and public health. Frequently seen on national TV, she's a SHAPE contributing editor and nutrition consultant to the New York Rangers and Tampa Bay Rays. Her latest New York Times best seller is S.A.S.S! Yourself Slim: Conquer Cravings, Drop Pounds and Lose Inches.