Health Team

Doctors: Eat Mindfully to Keep Off the Pounds

Posted February 7, 2008 8:06 p.m. EST
Updated February 7, 2008 9:49 p.m. EST

— Local doctors hope a practice called mindful eating will help people gain self-discipline to stop over-eating and to concentrate on healthier foods.

Dr. Ruth Wolever, a clinical health psychologist with Duke Integrative Medicine, teaches groups to practice mindful eating by concentrating on their body's needs and the experience of eating itself.

"Mindfulness is the practice of paying attention, moment to moment, to a person's experience," Wolever said.

Participants in the mindful-eating program learn to gauge their hunger on a scale of 1 to 7, where 1 is very hungry and 7 is very full. Doing so lets people listen to the hunger signals their bodies are sending and, consequently, make healthier eating decisions, Wolever said.

"Most people wait until they're like 'ugh,' before they think, 'Oh, I've had enough," Wolever said. Mindful eaters, she said, ask themselves, "Am I eating now, because I'm feeling physically hungry or because I'm eating out of habit?"

Mindful eating means eating more slowly and allowing oneself to savor the moment and enjoy the quality of the food. That allows people to consider the quality of the food they are eating and, perhaps, be satisfied with eating less, Wolever said.

For example, Wolever leads a group at Duke Integrative Medicine in an exercise in appreciating chocolate. She urges participants to "notice how you sense your body when you're in front of chocolate" and to "hear the sounds, feel the texture of the paper," then to "take a smell, take a sniff."

The goal is to teach participants to recognize their natural responses to chocolate and to be able to withstand the temptation to eat it immediately, Wolever said.

Susan Kelly said she is a true believer in mindful eating and credited the practice with being able to help her keep off 22 pounds.

"It does contribute to better self-discipline," Kelly said.