November 22 2015

Diet, Mindfulness, Weight

An intriguing study coming out of University of Minnesota and Harvard University was published in Psychological Science in September 2013. I wrote about it in my newsletter when it came out but I wanted to present it here and now, as we enter the holiday season which is often marked by lots of merrymaking…and lots of food.  The study looked at the importance of ritualistic behavior around eating, and how these behaviors can help us enhance our meal experience.  

Here are my take-home points from the study:

  • The study consisted of 4 experiments to investigate whether rituals around food actually enhance our experience of eating.
  • Rituals may be understood as one or a series of small behaviors/gestures that have personal meaning for those engaging in them.
  • In the first experiment, it was shown that those who engaged in rituals around meals found  the food of this experiment (chocolate) more flavorful and “valuable” than those who did not engage in rituals.
  •  The second experiment revealed that the enhanced experience of eating does NOT occur with random gestures but only with ritualized gestures; this experiment also demonstrated that a delay between the ritualized behavior and actually eating, heightened the enjoyment of the food.
  • The third experiment demonstrated that if you performed the ritual yourself, this improved the experience of the meal more so than if you watched the ritual done by someone else before you then ate/drank.
  •  The fourth experiment underscored the prior three experiments, showing that rituals around meals enhance the enjoyment of eating because there is greater involvement in the experience (i.e. increased mindfulness). 

Bottom line

Try and find ways of having your meals be more of a ritualized experience. This might be as simple as offering thanks before eating, having more home-prepared meals, or creating an eating space that is beautiful and meaningful for you.   Apart from providing a more pleasurable experience, eating this way - savoring one’s meals- also helps you better gauge when you are truly full, thus preventing overeating. 

Some personal thoughts on the study:

It has been my clinical and personal experience that how a person eats is just as important as what one is eating, and this is one of the reasons I really like the above study and wanted to share it with you.

I have found that the following exercise can be transformational for those with whom I work in my holistic medical practice. I simply ask them to do nothing else but eat when they eat. No eating when reading, no eating when working on the computer, no eating when watching television.  And definitely no eating when on the go—driving or walking to catch the bus/subway. Just prepare your meal and then eat it mindfully.  Simple, right?  Well it can be the hardest thing for a lot of people and the reasons for that could fill a whole chapter or book but I think two main reasons for this are the following.  

  1. For many people, meals feel like a chore, something that needs to “get done.” People often feel too busy to eat and so eating becomes tied to another activity (studying, reading, working, driving) as a way to be more efficient.  However, as the study suggests, and my experience has shown me, this multi-tasking often ends up backfiring. Our parasympathetic nervous system — which helps us relax— is vitally important  for proper digestion, and if we are multi-tasking when eating, we are often NOT relaxed, and therefore not digesting well. 
  2. Many people have a complex relationship with food and use food as a way to suppress difficult emotions. When one is suppressing emotions, the LAST thing one subconsciously wants to do, is be present and feel one’s feelings. So almost always, “emotional” eating  occurs with people eating in a way that is not at all mindful. The goal for someone who is using food to suppress emotions is not to “savor” their meal but rather, to not feel much at all. In my work, I am finding that when people practice mindful eating, this can be an important tool in healing this type of relationship with food.

I hope the above is useful to you. Part of my holistic medical work is in reminding people (we know it deep within) that the best food, true food, is both incredibly pleasurable and a vehicle for the most optimal fuel that supports our best health and potential. Pleasurable food and good-for-you food are not mutually exclusive. And mindful eating, which is at the heart of this study’s matter, reveals this truth to us.

Quick Quiz

Dance Link

August 31 2017
Healing Trauma and PTSD with Yoga

Healing Trauma and PTSD with Yoga

April 13 2017
Essential Oils

Essential Oils

December 31 2016
Favorite Links— Dec 2016 edition

Favorite Links— Dec 2016 edition

The tradition continues! In lieu...  

August 28 2016
Soy, Fermented foods, Obesity, Nutrition

Soy, Fermented foods, Obesity, Nutrition

Yet another study ha...  

July 29 2016
Vitamin D, Sun exposure, Cancer

Vitamin D, Sun exposure, Cancer

This month, I’m sharing what I think is a really important study that was recently published...  

June 29 2016
Jogging, Running, Exercise, Longevity

Jogging, Running, Exercise, Longevity

May 30 2016
Nutrition, Hypertension, High Carb diets

Nutrition, Hypertension, High Carb diets

Th...  

April 30 2016
Posture, Back Pain, Neck Pain/Cervicalgia, Life Expectancy, Mindfulness

Posture, Back Pain, Neck Pain/Cervicalgia, Life Expectancy, Mindfulness

This study, which was published recently in the...  

March 27 2016
Diet, fiber, cancer

Diet, fiber, cancer

This small but fascinating study published April 2015 in Nature...  

February 29 2016
Yoga, Diabetes, Mindfulness

Yoga, Diabetes, Mindfulness