How Do you feel about a diet Where you can eat whatever you like? Well, Mindful Eating Might Just be Your Answer.

Many of us have mixed feelings when it comes to our bodies, especially when the summer months come rolling around. Summer is the time when people seem especially motivated to lose the extra pounds they've gained during the colder more sedentary months of the year. 

This normative discontent with our bodies can sometimes cause us to deprive, stuff or even starve ourselves. But when we learn how to treat our bodies well and successfully adopt a healthier lifestyle, these other areas of our lives often feel better which increases our sense of overall well-being.

Two clinical nutritionists from Lenox Hill Hospital are trying to help some individuals with this living healthier goal and they are finding a lot of success with an eating regimen called “mindful eating”. Mindful Eating uses behavior modification, teaching patients how to own their own eating habits without eliminating or sacrificing the foods they crave or feel they can't live without.

Patients who decided to participate in this program can eat whatever they want as long as they develop a mindful approach to what they are tasting and putting in their bodies. 

In fact, one study, found nearly half of the nation’s registered dietitians find mindful eating to be one of the top healthy nutritional trends for 2017.

Antonella Apicella, MS, RD, CDN who leads New York’s Lenox Hill Hospital’s Core4™ by Sodexa weight loss program, along with her colleague Erin Keane, RD, CDN, CDE, the Asst. Clinical Nutrition Manager of the outpatient treatment center, says that mindful eating has impacted over 200 patients with very impressive results.

To find out more about these two nutritional experts, I sat down with them to learn more about mindful eating and their unique approach to eating food in a more conscious way.

Dr. Robi: What is mindful eating?

Erin Keane: Mindful eating has to do with thinking about and experiencing food in a conscious way. It’s about being present with what we are eating so that we can taste and actually enjoy our food. It’s also about shifting our awareness so that we can observe what physically and emotionally happens both during and after our eating experiences.

Dr. Robi:  How does mindful eating help participants lose weight?

Erin Keane: Mindful eating helps participants eat the quantity of food that physically feels right in their stomachs, which tends to be much less that what they ‘think’ they need to eat.

Mindful eating helps participants become aware of their internal stomach signals of hunger and fullness. We want them to rely on these signals to decide when to start and stop eating, rather than having them rely on restrictions or willpower.  When one eats the right amount (and right nutrient balance) for their physical stomach, they tend to eat at more regular times and have fewer cravings.

Learning about our physical signals also lets participants begin to address the times they eat when they are not in fact hungry. We help them deal with the times they overeat for emotional or impulsive reasons. Mindful eating allows them to take ownership of their eating behaviors rather then hide behind excuses

Dr. Robi: What are some of the main points of the mindful eating Program?

Erin Keane: The four aspects of our program include energy, exercise, eating & education.  Our education encompasses nutrition education & behavior modification, including mindful eating and appetite awareness.  We address individual needs with behavioral and nutritional goal setting throughout the whole program.  

Our goal is to provide more of a solution to weight management. We address emotional eating management as well as any nutrition education gaps for individuals. We provide suggestions and tools to help shape what someone eats.

mindful eating helps individuals find the balance between eating for nutrition and eating for emotional satisfaction. It’s about experiencing new foods (or different amounts of our favorite foods) to see how we physically and emotionally can feel better.

Another key component is ensuring that participants also evaluate how a meal/ snack physically affects them (instead of only focusing on emotional satisfaction or the taste of the food). Our physical reactions to foods help naturally lead us to healthier choices. Obviously, this is not possible at every single meal, but the more we can do this the better for our health and our waistline.

Dr. Robi:  How is this program designed? What makes it so unique?

Antonella Apicella: Lenox Hill Hospital's Core4 weight loss program, which uses mindful eating, is a stand-alone weight loss program offered by the dietitians and nutritionists at the hospital. It is an evidence-based year-long program offered at New York’s Lenox Hill.  It starts with an individual nutrition assessment.  The year-long program is divided into two phases:  Phase 1 meets weekly for ten weeks and phase 2 follows with nine additional monthly sessions.  To accommodate variable schedules, we provide weekly recap emails and the option to conference call into our class. Our program is designed to achieve 10% weight loss within the first 4-6 months.  Apart from monitoring weight, we assess lab values and waist circumference throughout the year.  At the completion of the year-long program, we offer participants the option to continue with an additional year of monthly sessions.             

Our program is unique because it uses an individualized approach to help participants achieve their goals, despite being in a group setting.  Our behavior modification component is strongly emphasized and it allows participants to learn how to manage cravings.  Apart from behavior modification, we are giving our participants the necessary tools to help shape what they eat. Our program is less a “diet” and more a lifestyle.  

The words “good” and “bad” (when speaking about food or one’s eating decisions) are not allowed in the sessions. We encourage participants to use their rational minds. We discourage participants from thinking they are “bad” for eating something. These negative thoughts tend to prevent weight loss.

Dr. Robi: How does the Program work? What is it about this mindful eating approach that helps participants lose weight so successfully?

Erin Keane: The mindful eating program helps participants achieve weight loss by teaching them to re-train their brain to be mindful. It turns out that mindful eating, which includes enjoying smaller amounts of food at a sitting, is a natural way to lose weight. We teach our participants how to recognize and rate both their physical hunger and fullness using a hunger scale. Our goal is to prevent strong hunger while limiting fullness.

This helps balance out their intake throughout the day and prevent overeating at night. Our program is not solely calorie-driven. Instead, we invite participants to gauge how much food is right for them by experiencing trials of different amounts and different types of food. Tracking and Goal setting is also an essential part of the program. They have the option of using apps or written tracking.  

We’ve found that actually ‘allowing’ yourself to have any food is essential to getting your mind in the right place for weight loss, e.g.

  • This approach helps participants take ownership of their eating
  • It is based on the truth that we typically overeat when we think we shouldn’t be eating a certain food or meal
  • When participants make a decision to experience healthier options, they can drive their own success towards long term weight loss
  • Finally, participants learn to manage cravings through indulging, or rather, being ‘allowed’ to indulge in a specific amount of food that they decide, as long as they commit to enjoying every single bite

Dr. Robi:  Statistically, how successful is the mindful eating program?

Antonella Apicella: According to our recent outcomes data, it has been very successful.  Generally, people do achieve ~10% weight loss over the first six months.  A high of 16-pound weight loss was observed at 12 weeks and a total of about 32 pounds at 12 months.  Waist circumference was reduced by 5 inches over the course of 12 months.  Our outcomes data also demonstrates a decrease in glucose and cholesterol levels.  According to our program evaluation survey data, 88% of participants agreed or strongly agreed that the program helped them address their weight as expected and 100% agreed or strongly agreed that their personal questions/needs were addressed and that they would recommend it to a friend.  

We also found that the vast majority of individuals who complete the program are able to talk and think in a more healthful way about food, which for us in a sense feels like even more of a success than the actual numbers. Again, when individuals can think more positively about food, weight loss and weight management become much easier.

Many participants’ sign up for the additional year of monthly group sessions that is offered to all who complete the program. We’ve had participants re-enroll into the program as well, not because they weren’t successful, but because they enjoyed the program so much and appreciated the contact and follow up.

Dr. Robi:  What topics get addressed and discussed with the patients, you have work with?

Antonella Apicella: In addition to what we’ve already explained (mindful eating, managing emotional eating), some nutrition and informational topics in the first 10 weeks of the program include label reading, portions, carbs, protein, fats, stress, sleep, exercise, fad diets, vitamins/minerals, and hydration.

Dr. Robi: Who qualifies for something like this?

Antonella Apicella: We are open to individuals with a BMI of 25 or higher, which means they are medically overweight. A pre-screening is completed to assess the BMI level and to see if this eating approach would be the right fit for them.

To find out more about mindful eating you can check out the details here:

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