The latest health buzz: Attentive eating

By David Shaw

Paleo, fasting, detoxing - there's so much diet chatter it's hard to know how to filter the information for the best health outcomes. But there's a much simpler solution that doesn't stop you eating the foods you love.

Become an attentive eater for better long term health.Photo / Thinkstock
Become an attentive eater for better long term health.Photo / Thinkstock

Diets claim to have the perfect recipe for trimming your waist size. Many manipulate quantities of proteins, fats or carbohydrates. Most of these work in the short term because they restrict foods and the total amount of calories consumed.

But when it comes to the long haul, not many people can stick to these restrictive diets for more than a year. This makes it pretty clear to me that a focus on lifestyle and behaviour is the best way to optimal health.

There's a simple strategy to weight loss - so simple that it puts many complicated diets to shame. It's all about taking a more mindful approach to what you eat.

Mindfulness is the process of paying attention to the 'right now' and letting your thoughts and feelings come and go without judgement. It's this mentality that helps resolve the urge to eat and overcome emotions like guilt and regret that commonly arise when we consume foods we think are 'bad'. As a result, we become increasingly aware of our body's internal cues, such as hunger, that drive our desire for food and also stop us from overeating.

A recent review published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition shows just how effective attentive eating can be. From the 24 studies probing the influence of attention and memory on food intake, the results were clearly in favour of taking this mindful approach to eating.

Eating when distracted was shown to increase food intake not only at meal time, but for several meals after the distraction occurred. On the other hand, having a better memory of what you recently ate reduces the amount eaten in the future.

How to be an attentive eater:

Become a mindful eater by removing distractions - turn off the TV, sit at a dining table, get away from your desk. Savour the taste of the food you're eating. Remember what else you've eaten that day. For many Kiwis, this approach to weight loss and a healthy life comes as comforting news because there's no banning or restricting foods.

* David Shaw is a registered dietitian and nutritionist

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