Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Pay Attention

Susan Albers is a psychologist at the Cleveland Clinic who specializes in eating issues, weight loss, body image concerns and mindfulness. The author of 50 Ways to Soothe Yourself Without Food, and Eating Mindfully, Dr. Albers is something of a media star, appearing The Dr. Oz Show, CNN, and NPR, and her work has been featured in O, the Oprah Magazine, Family Circle, Shape, Prevention, Self, Health, Fitness, Vanity Fair, Natural Health, and the Wall Street Journal.

She’s kicking off the Mindful Eating Marathon, a dieting alternative and a fresh approach to all those weight loss resolutions that come with the new year, on January 1. It’s 26.2 days of daily challenges and tips for weight management. Going hungry is not part of the program but eating foods you love is. The secret is to learn about what drives your behavior, focus on your habits, and teach the brain and stomach to know when you have eaten just the right amount. Sign up directly through the website and the tips will be sent to you via email.

 I asked Dr. Alber to tell me more about what it means to eat mindfully, why it can be an effective way to address diet and weight issues, what the Marathon can do for participants and how it works. These are her responses.

 If you’ve ever signed up for a marathon, you know that it requires extensive training, mental tricks to keep you motivated and the ability to listen to your body. Sound familiar? It’s the same skills you need to eat well--for the long term. Mindful eating is more like a marathon than a sprint. My clients tell me how exhausted they are by the stop-start processing of dieting. Keeping a slow, but steady pace adopting mindful eating habits prevents frustration and giving up. Research indicates that restriction puts you at high risk for bingeing.

Mindful eating is not a diet. There are no menus or recipes. It’s about changing how you eat rather than what you eat. A recent study of middle aged women who frequently ate at restaurants cut their calorie intake by approximately 300 calories a day just by learning mindful eating skills—and they still ate out at restaurants. Therefore, it’s a skill that can let you still lead a normal life of eating out with friends and having fast food now and then. It's sometimes impossible to meet all the demands of a fad diet in your everyday world.

What’s interesting about mindful eating skills is that it can help a wide range of eating problems including weight loss, body image problems, chronic eating problems (ex. binge eating) and reduce the symptoms of diabetes. How does it help such diverse problems? Being mindful helps you to stop your emotional knee-jerk reactions around food. You can’t control your brain telling you “I want that fudge brownie!”. What you can alter is if you respond to it. We often think of our thoughts as an “order” instead of just a suggestion. No matter what your brain tells you to do with food, being mindful can help you manage it.

 The Mindful Eating Marathon:

1) Is free

2) Is a gift someone can give themselves for the holiday--the gift of health and a new way of eating

3) It provides an alternative to dieting, which has proven time and again to be ineffective. We know dieting doesn't work but we go back to it time and again. You can't expect different results by doing the same thing.

4) It's a long term strategy that has been clinically tested to help people manage weight.

I'm intrigued by her ideas and as a professional eater the notion of being attentive to my own relationship to food is intriguing. So I've registered for the Marathon, my first ever, and am looking forward to what shows up in my inbox next month.


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