Much of the research I’ve explored has discussed using mindfulness to help us be more aware of our behaviours and why we are engaging in these behaviours. These two TED talks I found very helpful in considering how I respond to cues in my external and internal environment.
Both of these talks explore the role mindfulness can play in helping us deal with overeating. Brewer tells us that our brains are hardwired to want us to remember where we found high caloric foods. When we eat a high caloric food, the brain releases dopamine as a reward to get us to remember it for next time. It helped protect us from starvation when that was a threat, but is much less helpful now!
He then explains that during a time when we were feeling low or stressed, our brains suggested to us that eating a high caloric foods might get us a dopamine kick and we’d feel better. Sure enough, it worked. As a result, many of us turn to food to deal with non-hunger related feelings.
The trick to stopping this feedback loop is to be more curious about what is happening when this feeling arises, to attend to your thoughts and feelings. To be mindful.
Sandra Aamodt’s talk is much more depressing. Her research explains that it is almost impossible to lose weight permanently because your brain has a set-point for your weight and it will control metabolism and energy use to maintain this set-point. You can raise your set point by being overweight for a number of years, but you cannot lower it. For dieters, it means you will always have to eat less food than other people who had never been overweight. She also states that you will inevitably put it back on. The focus we should be taking now is to prevent our children from ever becoming overweight in the first place.
Aamodt also talks about mindfulness – mindful eating. She says we have to train people to eat when they are hungry and to stop when they are full. We have to be very attuned to the needs of our bodies and respond. This might not help us lose weight, but it will prevent us from binge-eating, sneak-eating, and over-eating. It will also hopefully prevent a whole generation of girls from even starting to diet.
One reassuring idea Aamodt shared was that even if you are obese or overweight, you can reduce your risk of premature death to the same levels as those experienced by normal weight people by addressing your lifestyle habits: eating healthy foods, drinking in moderation, exercising three times a week, and not smoking. Even adding one of these factors had a significant impact on life expectancy. Doing all four brought obese people into the same range as people within the healthy weight range.
So now I need to think again about my goals and how I want to address this issue long term. I am continuing to document my learning on my concept map and it is interesting the number of times the same connections are coming up. The reflective journal is also going well. I have noticed how much routine helps me stay on track. I have also started using the Headspace app for 10 minutes everyday to help me learn how to be more mindful. As a result I have begun to see some of my thoughts before they translate into action, which has saved me a few unnecessary trips to the fridge!
Photo credit: Flickr user estarsid via Creative Commons