Mindful eating could be the key to staying slim, according to a new clinical trial published in the journal Obesity. The treatment focuses on personal goals and ‘cues’ to overeating.
Lately, mindfulness seems to be the answer to many of life’s challenges. Including staying slim. A new weight loss therapy focuses on mindful eating, personal values, and decision making. Over a year, participants in the clinical trial received the therapy and lost an average 13 percent of their initial weight.
The mindful eating approach is called acceptance-based behavioral therapy, or ABT. According to the study authors, ABT challenges the biggest obstacles when it comes to keeping a stable weight. This includes resisting temptation when cravings strike!
"The standard advice on weight loss only works if people are able to stick with it," said Evan Forman, a professor of psychology at Drexel University in Philadelphia who helped develop ABT.
The standard behavioral therapy approaches don’t solve the main obstacle when it comes to weight loss: that people are biologically driven to eat, especially tasty foods. But since temptations and tasty foods are all around us these days, the biological drive can become a problem.
"It takes special skills to resist those temptations," Forman said. "It's hard to turn down pleasure and reward. But those skills can be learned." And ABT is Forman’s plan to teach those skills.
How did the mindful eating help?
190 overweight adults participated in the clinical trial and were randomly distributed to either ABT or standard treatment (which involves the classic exercise and reducing calories combo). All of them went to 25 group sessions over one year, where they met with therapists with expertise in weight loss. All of the participants received help with diet changes and exercise, problem-solving, and dealing with cravings.
But the ABT group received some extra components. People chose a goal, but one not related to their weight. Their goal had to be connected to their personal values. Like the goal of being a healthy, active grandma. "We emphasize the point, 'Why does this matter?' " Forman said. "We get at the bigger idea of what people want in life, and how is weight related to that?"
ABT lets people know that weight loss is a hard challenge. That they will feel deprived, have cravings or have a hard time with choosing an apple over a brownie. They learn that there’s nothing wrong with that and that it’s natural to feel those things, thanks to biology. Knowing that they can focus on their behavior and observe their patterns. That takes patience and also practice. So the participants practiced throwing away the brownie and eating the apple, all the while being patient with themselves, understanding that it takes time.
Thanks to mindfulness, people also learned to observe their reactions to certain stimuli when it came to their appetite. How they felt when bored, tempted or distracted. Participants were so able to make informed and aware decisions about every meal and snack.
The ABT group was also successful when it came to keeping the pounds off in time. 64 percent of the participants in that group had maintained at least a 10 percent weight loss after a year.