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Mindful eating found to help diabetics

Posted Nov 09 2012 9:52am

I believe I eat a generally healthy diet, but I’m no angel. One of my weaknesses is my ‘speed eating’ – a tendency to consume food too quickly and a failure to savour it properly. One of the risks of eating this way is that it can bypass some of the body’s natural cues regarding satiety, and therefore lead us to eating more than we need. This is one of the reasons why I have, in the past, recommended ‘mindful eating’ for those seeking to control their food consumption and their weight.

I was therefore interested to read today about a study in which mindful eating was trialled in a group of individuals with type 2 diabetes [1]. You can read about the study here . Basically, though, individuals were instructed in the art and practice of mindful eating through group sessions spanning a 3-month period. This instruction involved encouraging people to tune into their body before eating and taking a few moments to assess their level of hunger. They were also encouraged to make conscious choices about how much they would eat, as well as stopping eating once they were full.

Results in this group were compared with those in individuals who were not instructed in mindful eating, but instead were given standard nutrition advice as dispensed during conventional diabetes education programmes.

Both interventions led to improvements in weight (the standard and mindful approaches led to losses of about 3 and 1.5 kg respectively). More impressive, though, was the reduction in a marker of blood sugar control known as HbA1c (which measures overall blood sugar control over the last 3 months or so). This fell by about 0.7 and 0.8 per cent in the standard and mindful group respectively. This is the sort of reduction (improvement) one expects to see through the addition of a diabetes medication.

My experience in practice tells me that quite a lot of self-confessed over-eaters are victims of habit and conditioning. If you feel this may be true for you, here’s a few things that might help:

1. Get in tune with your hunger signals
Spend just a few seconds, several times each day, asking yourself just how hungry you really are. Rate your hunger on a scale of 0–10. Just doing this will help you get back in touch with the signals your body uses to tell you how genuinely hungry you are.

2. Avoid eating ‘by the clock’
Some individuals get themselves into the habit of ‘eating by the clock’, for example having lunch because it’s ‘lunch time’ whether hungry or not. If you are aware that you do this resolve, wherever practical, to delay eating until genuine hunger is present.

3. Avoid ‘clearing your plate’
One potential driver of unnecessary eating that is the belief that we need to finish everything on our plate. A common cause of this is messages received in childhood about the importance of not wasting food, particularly in light of the plight of starving children in the Third World. Yet, in reality, the eating of more than you need to in no way helps starving children (or anyone else). Being mindful of this can be all that it takes to rid yourself of a ‘clear the plate’ mentality.

4. Use smaller crockery
A meal that’s big enough to truly satisfy may still look insignificant or ‘lost’ on a large plate or in a big bowl. Using crockery that is appropriate for smaller-sized but properly satisfying meals can reduce the tendency to pile food unnecessarily high.

5. Avoid ‘eating for later’
Some individuals eat with a goal of avoiding hunger before the next meal. However, this can encourage overeating when the time between meals is long (e.g. between lunch and dinner). Aim to eat enough at each meal to be comfortably full. Remember it’s perfectly fine to eat a healthy snack (e.g. nuts) to tide you over to the next meal should you get peckish.

References:

1. Miller CK, et al. Comparative Effectiveness of a Mindful Eating Intervention to a Diabetes Self-Management Intervention among Adults with Type 2 Diabetes: A Pilot Study. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. 2012;112(11):1835

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