Eric Lingenfelter @2012 Artistree Names

On Thanksgiving, a relative took a bite of pecan pie, looked at me slyly and said, "I'm very mindful of every bite and I'm going to eat it anyway." Her point? Being mindful of your behavior isn't always going to stop you from eating something you want.

It wasn't the first time I've heard a statement like this one. Her comment revealed an underlying question that many of my clients ask--does awareness really help? Is it "enough" to change the way you eat? If you've wondered this same thing as well, I urge you not to underestimate the power of being mindful. I will use my one of my favorite painting to demonstrate the impact of awareness.

For a moment, take a look at this picture. It was painted for me by the fantastic company, Artistree Names. What do you see? A tree (of coarse!). Now take a closer, second look. Can you see the words "eating mindfully" between the branches? Artistree Names uses the negative space--the space you often don't focus your attention on to create something meaningful. When you look at this painting, you can choose where you place your attention--on the foreground or background. Now that you know the words are there, try not to "see" the phrase "eating mindfully." It's difficult, almost impossible. Your perception is forever changed.

This clever painting is much like mindful eating and awareness. The moment you become aware that you are eating mindlessly, it's hard not to "see" it anymore. When you sit on the coach robotically eating chips or at a bar popping peanuts into your mouth, you recognize the behavior right away. This little inner voice speaks up and says, "Hey, I am mindlessly eating right now!"

Back to my pecan pie eating relative. She joked about being aware of eating the pecan pie. Her comment was proof enough that she now can "spot" when mindless eating pops up. It doesn't fade into the background unnoticed. This awareness creates a choice--a choice to continue or to stop eating. Without awareness, you have no options. You follow mindlessly behind your cravings wherever it may take you.

Still not convinced? Clinical studies have examined the effectiveness of awareness and eating. For example, Timmerman and Brown (2012) conducted a study on middle aged women who frequently ate out at restaurants. The intervention was just teaching the women how to be more "aware" of their choices, hunger, fullness and mindless eating behavior. The result? The women ate 300 calories less each day.

Thus, the next time you hear yourself say, "Hey, I'm mindlessly eating, I am aware of it, and I'm going to do it anyway." Don't fret. Sometimes that awareness will stop you in your tracks and other times you will keep going. Regardless, you've will make a conscious choice. The consciousness will give you much more power to stop mindless eating than it would have if you had not "spotted" the mindless eating at all.

Thank you to Artistree Names for permission to post this picture (great site to get personalized holiday gifts!) Painting by Eric Lingenfelter @2012

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** Timmerman GM, Brown A (2012) The effect of a mindful restaurant eating intervention on weight management in women. J Nutr Educ Behav. Jan-Feb;44(1):22-8.

About the Author

Susan Albers, Psy.D.

Susan Albers, Psy.D., is a psychologist who specializes in eating issues, weight loss, body image concerns and mindfulness. 

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