There’s a psychologist called Eric Robinson who has a surprising tool for weight loss.
Clue: we all have one, but we don’t use it as much as we could and we are always losing it.
I first came across Robinson’s work in this BBC article How to curb hunger pangs with your mind and immediately I was intrigued. I’ve long believed that we underestimate the role the mind plays in our eating habits, but had not read much about this... until now!
Here’s a bit of backstory to save you from reading the BBC article.
Robinson stumbled across this idea when he noticed that people with terrible memories - those suffering from anterograde amnesia - would have no recollection of any of the food they had eaten 20 minutes prior. In a study, two men were given a plate of sandwiches and cake which they ate until they were full. 15 minutes later they were given another plate, and the the two amnesiacs tucked in a second time. They had forgotten that they had already eaten!
Isn’t that interesting? You would think that our bodies would know if we had eaten or not and whether we were ACTUALLY hungry. But apparently not. In fact, our body and brain can be easily fooled.
Here’s a brilliant study that proves it. Jeff Brunstrom at the University of Bristol asked his study participants to eat a bowl of soup. Simple right? Ha! well, unbeknownst to them he hooked a pipe to the bowl through the table which meant that he could top up their soup without them noticing.
What he found was soup-er interesting. How much they snacked later, depended only on how much soup appeared in the bowl at the beginning - big bowl or small bowl - and NOT how much they actually ate. So, if you thought that hunger was completely controlled by your body, think again! The mind has a much bigger role than we thought.
Brunstrom did another study. This time he asked people to eat with one hand while they played solitaire with the other and what he found was that because they were distracted, they struggled to recall the meal later and pigged out on more biscuits later in the day.
This now starts drifting into the idea of mindful eating; being present and focused on the food you’re eating… noticing the colours, the taste, the sensation of the food in your mouth, the smell and how it feels going down your throat. In fact Brusnstom asked some obese women in another study to eat a plate of sandwiches mindfully. When it came to snacking 3 hours later, the mindful eaters ate 30% fewer calories.
That’s pretty staggering!
But wait! there’s more… There's a group of researchers that have found that by simply visualising you cravings - in full glorious technicolour 3D - seems to trick the mind that it’s actually eaten.
Now this visualising trick is nothing new. We know that the mind can’t tell the difference between something imagined and real, which is what makes visualisation such a powerful technique for athletes. So we shouldn’t be surprised that we can use it when it comes to food.. but who would have imagined it would work, when we thought that our hunger pangs were controlled by our body?
Now, if I had to choose between mindful eating and visualisation, I know which I’d rather choose… the eating one!
So how do we become more mindful when it comes to eating?
Well, you might be interested to know that there are some core principles of mindful eating.
Michelle May’s book, Eat What You Love Love What You Eat: How to Break Your Eat-Repent-Repeat Cycle she shares the mindful eating cycle which is basically a series of questions designed to create a gap between your I-want-food-trigger and your response; eating.
Since most people eat for reasons other than physical hunger, “Why do I eat?” is a great place to start if you want to change your behaviour.
Here's a great little diagram that shows the cycle in action that I've taken from this brilliant article that shows a ton of research that supports this approach for people who might be wondering how to lose weight with your mind and fancy seeing the science.
This approach (Mindfulness-Based Eating Awareness Training (MB-EAT)) has had quite a bit of research done into it and it works. particularly with binge-eating disorder (BED),
One of the studies that examined MB-EAT showed that the number of binge-eating episodes among participants decreased from slightly more than four per week to about 1.5, and that many patients no longer met the diagnostic criteria for the disorder.
That’s pretty amazing for something that is essentially so simple.
So, if you want to tap into the power of your mind to lose weight, here are some exercises that you can do.
Here are some exercises that you can try when you’re hungry
Create a hunger scale ranging from 0 to 10 (0 being the most hungry and 10 being the least hungry). To help you do this, ask yourself :
Why not keep a journal of your hunger rating before, during, and after each meal for three days, noting any triggers or physical cues that led to the choice of that rating.
Now that you have a hunger scale, you can rate your hunger every you feel the need to have food.
1. Rate your hunger
2. Ask yourself, Why do I want some food?
If the hunger rating is high, then maybe you’re actually hungry, but maybe you’re doing it for other reasons. Note what they are.
If it’s a social trigger, then ask yourself whether eating is the only option.
If it’s an emotional feeling that you’r trying to mask or escape from , then try clearing that emotion using our 5 step process: 5 Step Head Trash Clearance Method
If after going through the rest of the mindful eating questions, you decide that you really are hungry, then drink a half A pint of water and wait 20 minutes. Hunger is often dehydration.
If after your glass of water, you’re still hungry - you have 2 options;
But, when you do, eat mindfully. Like this...
How to Eat Food Mindfully
Take a raisin, grape, strawberry, piece of cheese, or chocolate.* Observe the appearance and texture. Is there an aroma? What kind of changes do you notice in your body as you observe this food? (Answers may include salivation, impatience, anticipation, and nothing.)
Place a small amount of the food in your mouth, and do not chew it. After 30 seconds (wait 1 minute for chocolate), start chewing.
After you've finished eating, ask yourself the following questions:
• What did you notice about the flavor or texture before you started chewing the food? After you started chewing?
• How does that compare with your typical experience?
Instead of eating when you’re hungry, visualise eating your favourite food. Maybe do a mini meditation for 5 minutes as you visualise everything about that eating experience.
Have you tried doing any of these? Have they worked for you? Tell me about your successes in the comments!