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A (Not So) New Way to Diet: Pay Attention!

Last updated: Jan 11, 2012

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According to a small new study in the Journal of Nutrition and Education Behavior, so-called mindful eating -- paying attention to what and how much you eat -- could help you lose weight. This technique could pay off especially when eating out, as people tend to eat more fat and consume more calories in restaurants than at home, said CNN.

Gayle Timmerman, a nursing professor at The University of Texas at Austin, and her team recruited 35 middle-aged women of different weights. Half the women served as a control group that stayed on a waiting list during the duration of the study. The other half were given weekly two-hour sessions with a nutritionist who taught them how to make healthy food choices in restaurants, like choosing steamed rice instead of fried rice at Asian restaurants. Each session ended with a mindful eating exercise, such as focusing on feelings of fullness while eating chocolate.

At the end of the study, the women still ate out a lot (six times a week, on average), but were eating about 300 calories per day fewer and had lost almost 4 pounds on average. Researchers found that some of that calorie reduction also came from meals eaten at home, meaning that the mindfulness techniques were working in more than just restaurant scenarios.

This finding may not be too surprising -- nearly everyone knows that it's easier to overeat when mindlessly chowing down in front of the TV than when actively paying attention to what you're eating -- but it's worth a closer look.

Susan Albers, a psychologist at the Cleveland Clinic and the author of Eating Mindfully, said, "In general, we've lost the art of savoring food. We can eat an entire plate of food and not taste one bite. Mindful eating skills teach you how to eat less but enjoy it more."

While other experts pointed out the limitations of this study -- a small sample size, a control group that got no attention instead of one that received nutrition counseling without mindfulness training, etc. -- it doesn't seem like anyone's arguing with the basic premise.

CNN also provided seven tips for preventing overeating. One of the least obvious? On a scale of one to ten, rate how hungry you are before chowing down, and plan to eat accordingly. "Remember," CNN said, "you don't have to clear your plate."