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A split-second decision that could change your weight

Dr. David Cox

Although we’re inundated with theories, explanations, and diet and exercise programs, obesity continues to be a huge global problem.

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But I think there’s a neglected reason people today eat more than is strictly necessary – they don’t notice they’re eating. Perhaps someone keeps a packet of cookies at his desk and absentmindedly reaches for them while working through his inbox. Before he knows it, he’s eaten half the pack and it’s only 11:30 am. Or, if someone works in a modern office with snacks dotted around, she picks one up on her way to the bathroom, then another on her way back to her desk. She half notices that it’s tasty, but she’s not actually aware that she ate something she didn’t need to. Twice. Blink and you miss that moment of choice to eat (or drink). There has to be a link to mindfulness here, right? Mindfulness is about becoming aware; noticing. And, of course, becoming aware of your actions is the first step to being able to carry out different ones. There are other ways in which mindfulness can contribute to lower calorie consumption. When you’re in a state of choosing how to respond, rather than simply reacting, you’re more likely to make considered eating choices. By eating mindfully – paying attention to your food with all your senses – you become more satisfied, because after all, how can you really be satisfied by something you didn’t even notice you ate? One study has even found that people eat significantly less as a result of being taught how to eat mindfully.

If you’re noticing and enjoying your food, you’re likely to eat it more slowly. Which means you’ll have eaten less by the time your brain becomes aware that your gut is telling you it's full (a process that takes around 20 minutes). Relish your food and you’ll enjoy more, and eat less. Sounds like a pretty good deal doesn’t it? Obesity is no doubt a complex problem, but wherever in the world you are, whatever you happen to be eating, that choice remains the same: to eat, or not to eat? If we can be aware for it, we stand a much better chance of making the right decision.

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