It is fascinating to note the extreme measures humans will take to attain their ideal body weight. The human species has resorted to toxic starvation diets, 2,4-Dinitrophenol, ephedra, hydroxycut, fen-phen, excessive caffeinated beverages or pills, herbal xenicol, phenteramine, and meridia just to name a few. These supplements can lead to death. Although most have been banned they continue to be abused in the black market. If taking a pill that can lead to death sounds too risky, examine gastric bypass surgery. The risks of gastric bypass surgery include infection, bleeding, blood clots, bowel obstruction, leaks, dumping syndrome, gallstones, hernia, stomach perforation, ulcers, and death. But the most dreaded risk of all, is going through this risky surgery and then having the stomach stretch out again, enlarge, and regain the weight back. Unfortunately, this happens to a significant percentage of patients who have this surgery. The FDA approved a safer alternative recently.
The ORBERA is a saline filled balloon that is inserted in the stomach using minimally invasive endoscopic procedure. The balloon is left in place for 6 months. The patient must be obese with a Body Mass Index of 30-40 kg/m2, have an obesity-related condition such as diabetes, hypertension, hyperlipidemia and have been unsuccessful in losing weight through diet and exercise. Studies are promising and patients using ORBERA on average lost 22 pounds after 6 months. This new procedure is not without its risks and possible side effects include gastric ulcers, indigestion, abdominal pain, vomiting, infection allergic reaction and rarely myocardial infarction. I would recommend ORBERA over gastric bypass surgery. However, I recommend mindful eating as a first line therapy.
“So often, even when we stop to say a blessing before a meal, we’re mentally preparing to spoon some pasta or potatoes onto our plates. We’re not usually focused on the present moment, simply placing ourselves before our food and entering into the still, slow space where eating is done for eating’s sake and not something we do simply to get to the next thing on our list.”
― Mary DeTurris Poust, Cravings: A Catholic Wrestles with Food, Self-Image, and God
A review article published in 2014 shows evidence for mindfulness based intervention for obesity-related eating behaviors such as emotional eating. Mindful eating creates lightness and freedom to choose to feel good by not overeating. Being mindful of consumption can be as simple as the ancient saying, “eat when you are hungry and drink when you are thirsty”. What may lead humans to overconsumption of food and especially unhealthy foods is determined by stress. A recent study suggests that stress may compromise self-control. Also, this stress affects brain regions responsible for self-control as shown in fMRI scans. Stress in daily life has become the norm.
Americans are habituated to a materialistic lifestyle and are always on the go. This constant restlessness on external distractions leads to an overconsumption of material things. These distractions also leads to the overconsumption of food. Ignoring the body’s satiety center and signals to stop eating is a crime against the wisdom of millions of years of built in evolution. Our body orchestrates and synchronizes countless chemical reactions and release hormones to help us assimilate our food. For example, the stomach and small intestine release ghrelin, the “hunger hormone”, that helps regulate appetite. Once the stomach is stretched, the secretion of ghrelin stops. Obesity and overeating negatively impacts this important hormone ghrelin that is associated with satiety, hedonic eating, metabolic and cardiovascular health, and is anti-aging. When we lose touch with these natural bodily signals, it leads to a slippery slope of overconsumption and disease. Distractions, by not eating mindfully leads to not only overeating foods, but also eating the wrong foods.
Hari Hachi bu is a Confucian teaching that means, “eat only until you are 80% full.” Also, in Ayurveda, the proper volume to eat at one time is an 'anjali', or the equivalent of your two hands opened in the shape of a bowl. These ancient mindfulness principles can be used to remind us that we must honor natural body signals to keep a healthy temple (body). This practice is used regularly by the Okinawan elders and is thought to contribute to their exceptional longevity. Okinawans have the highest rate of centenarian per 100,000 people in the population, and it is thought that this relative calorie restriction plays a role. They also have a very healthy body mass index (BMI).
A mindful eating practice that I share with my family is saying grace at the dinner table. We study our plates and give thanks to the food. Then we go around the table and everyone has a turn saying what they are thankful for on the plate. Everyone at the table gives thanks to a particular item, and describes where that food comes from. For example, if we are eating guacamole, the kids would thank the avocado tree and the sun that helped it grow. In the tofu stir fry, someone would give thanks to the soybean and visualize how the soybean plant looks and where it grows. Once we run out of food items to thank, we thank the farmers for growing our food, and then we thank the cook, etc. In this fashion, we feel an appreciation of how our food gets on our table and feel interconnected with each other and all of creation.
Mindful eating involves a shift in consciousness. Controlling stress is important so one's self-control in choosing the right foods is not sabotaged. If we only consume what our body desires, from true hunger, we will naturally and effortlessly attain our ideal body weight. Research shows stress reduction can facilitate weight loss. If you eat mindfully and you are currently at your ideal weight, you will maintain it. If you are not at your ideal weight and start eating mindfully, you will lose weight and attain your ideal weight spontaneously. The secret to a regular mindful eating practice is stress reduction.