Academy-award winning actress Kathy Bates says she credits "mindfulness" for her 65-pound weight loss, telling US Magazine, “the trick is to pay attention to that and push your plate away.”
Now, she’s not talking about wishing away the pounds, but the mind can be a powerful ally or devious saboteur when making food choices or choices about your health like choosing to exercise or stay sedentary.
“Mindfulness is a state of non-judgmental awareness of our present-moment experiences that we have all experienced and are capable of,” Dr. Erica Sibinga, associate professor of pediatrics and a mindfulness researcher at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, told ABC News.
Can mindful eating be the key to unlocking your determination? Experts say that there are ways to train your brain to get on the side of your health.
First, you must commit to change
“It took a few years," Bstes told US magazine. "I would say you have to be really patient … I don’t like the word willpower, but I like the word determination."
Changing behavior requires transitioning through many stages, according to the American Psychological Association. It starts with deciding to make a change and then it’s a matter of preparation and action. But Kathy Bates shows us that with determination, change is possible.
“When we eat mindlessly, we eat past the point of fullness,” said Ashley Mason, PhD, a professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF). Eating mindfully, she said, is, “not eating while you’re watching TV, or on Instagram or Facebook.”
Experts say that you must make the decision to “pay attention to how you feel while you’re eating it; the texture of the food; sensing that you’re full."
You can train your brain to side with weight loss and health
With awareness and practice, you can learn a new behavior. This brings the conscious realization that you have the control to make a habit and cut cravings, as described by Charles Duhigg in The Power of Habit.
Mason suggests imagining this scenario: have you ever eaten one donut and allowed yourself to then say, “what the [heck], might as well eat the whole box?” calling this the, “What the he** effect.”
“When we take a bite of a delicious donut we know, from science, that bite number ten doesn’t taste as good as bite number one.”
Mindful eating “attunes people to the fact that they can get the reward they’re seeking form a few bits rather than eating the whole box of donuts.”
Awareness of the evidence is also important. Dr. Marissa Black, of the Department of Medicine at the University of Washington, cautions that research is too premature to recommend mindful eating as a weight loss approach for everyone and, “should not be seen as an easy fix to a vexingly difficult problem.”
To add to the research Mason and colleagues at the UCSF Osher Center for Integrative Medicine are launching the DELISH Study to investigate if mindfulness can help people with diabetes cut the sugar.
It turns out that willpower can be developed to support your change
Willpower is not something you have or don’t. The New York Times bestseller “Willpower: Rediscovering the greatest human strength” describes willpower like a muscle that warrants training, but requires breaks to not be worn out. To assist rather than fatigue your brain, the book advises setting clear and attainable goals.
Author Tierney calls willpower “energy in the brain,” telling NPR, "Just putting food where you can see it next to you depletes your willpower… Whereas putting it away in a drawer or putting it across the room makes it easier for you because you're not actively resisting the temptation."
You need to maintain what you learned
“Bringing focused non-judgmental awareness to our food and how we eat has the potential to reduce disordered eating and improve our relationship with food and the joy of eating,” says Sibinga.
Mindfulness may not only help your diet, but your overall health. Sibinga said that “anxiety, depression, and pain in diverse adult clinical populations and youth,” and help improve “immune function, changes in brain connectivity, decreased stress reactivity, [and] a number of other important health outcomes, such as sleep, burnout, trauma symptoms, and the treatment and prevention of addiction.”
But to accomplish mindfulness, we all -- like Kathy Bates -- must face the last stage of behavior change; maintenance.
“The key,” Mason said, is “to remember that no one’s perfect, but perhaps mindful eating can help train [you] away from the, “What the he** effect”.
Dr. Robin Ortiz is a physician in internal medicine and pediatrics at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, and a member of the ABC News Medical Unit.