The weight loss industry is one of those jam packed with programs, diets, and ideas to help people lose weight. In fact, it’s a multi-million dollar industry that thrives on the recycling of old material in the form of a new low-fat cook book (with some minor improvements and an endorsing well known face on the cover), or the creation of a new diet that works for one person but fails thousands of others, or the reinvention of an old concept that’s found a vehicle for a trendy following. The campaigns are everywhere; and, unfortunately, it’s the campaigns that are winning not the people buying into them.
Let’s get one thing straight! Just because a celebrity endorses a diet, a low-fat cook book, or an exercise program because it worked for them, doesn’t mean it will work for you. There are so many variables to consider that it would be unwise to expect the same results as ‘she who makes over a million dollars a year, has a personal trainer, personal shopper, more time than the clock has to offer, and the opportunity to go into hiding for 12 months when the weight starts stacking back on’.
The weight loss industry promises a lot, but delivers very little; and, much like a politician, it’s up for re-election-and often gets re-elected-every time. The most overlooked aspect of weight loss is behaviour; and, the weight loss industry is partly to blame. With promises of such wonderful results, the focus rests with the outcome and not the process. So, in the end, we learn not how to change our behaviours but how to fail.
Much of what we’ve lost today in understanding our behaviours can be found in theories and concepts that have philosophical underpinnings. Take for example the art of practicing mindfulness, which is an ancient Buddhist philosophy and, currently, a rather trendy concept that delivers far more than it actually promises (because it doesn’t promise anything) provided you understand where and how to apply it. In short, mindfulness works best when you apply it to all aspects of your life. Why, because it is a way of life, not a short course elective subject to satisfy your university credits.
Mindfulness is about utilizing all our senses to experience moments of our daily life; and, such moments are most valuable to our being when we are able to apply maximum attention to these experiences. The words ‘you only have moments to live’ by Jon Kabat-Zinn exemplifies this process; for, such opportunities are lost when our minds are elsewhere, perhaps pre-occupied with events of the past or the uncertainty of what hasn’t yet happened and may not ever happen.
The world of mindfulness is too great to cover in this short article; however, with respect to its application to eating habits and weight loss, I can at least touch on some of its principles. As a psychologist I value sustainable behavioural change, so I see great value in something like mindfulness, particularly since it is such a wonderful skill to possess in all areas of our life not just eating.
Mindfulness suggests that when we taste more we often eat less; so, the art of savouring is essential to this process. On the flip side, when we taste less we eat more. Think of times when you’ve perhaps eaten something quickly or that you didn’t necessarily enjoy, but ate it anyway, only to go searching through the pantry for something higher in satiety immediately after. This explains why it’s so important to enjoy what you eat, in smaller amounts and in moderation, and perhaps why diets-an often depriving process-don’t work.
Because mindfulness can be applied to so many areas of our life, it’s no surprise that it’s become a hot topic in the area of weight loss. After all, it’s a behavioural concept with cognitive benefits. So, the big question is: Can applying mindfulness principles to eating habits help someone lose weight. Well, on a positive note, it’s a valuable and sustainable trait, particularly if it helps you taste more and eat less. After all, portion control is the most effective form of weight loss (think gastric band and gastric sleeve). The question you have to ask yourself is: ‘Do you have anything to lose if it only stopped you gaining more weight, and taught you how to enjoy life more, enjoy your food more, and be a genuinely happier person?’