Did you know that our taste buds tire quickly? Yes, it’s true. If you’ve ever bitten into a piece of chocolate cake and found that first bite heavenly and then finished the cake barely noticing the taste of the final bite, then you’ve experienced tired taste buds.
Our taste buds are chemical sensors that pick up on taste acutely for the first few bites. After eating a large amount, we may taste very little of what we’re eating.
So what does this have to do with belly fat and mindfulness?
According to clinical psychologist Jean Kristeller, PhD, president and co-founder of The Center for Mindful Eating, many of us are eating too often and too much.
We’re bombarded by advertisements for unhealthy foods and confronted with restaurant portions appropriate for two or three people. Then we eat for all sorts of reasons: it’s time to eat, food is available or offered or we’re angry, anxious, depressed or bored.
With so many reasons and opportunities to eat, Kristeller suggests in this month’s Monitor on Psychology that we have become disconnected from feelings of hunger and satiety.
Kristeller first connected the practice of mindfulness with eating while studying food intake regulation at Yale with Judith Rodin, PhD. Rodin was linking disregulated eating to a disconnect with hunger signals. Kristeller began using mindfulness practice as a strategy to reconnect people with the body’s experience of hunger and satiety.
In her 10-week course in mindful eating, Kristeller teaches participants how to increase their awareness of their drives to eat and the triggers for overeating. And yes, that includes teaching participants to pay attention to those first few scrumptious bites, but also to notice as food begins to lose its taste.
It’s about finding satisfaction in quality, not quantity, Kristeller says. And other researchers are testing her theory. In one study, Gayle Timmerman, PhD, RN found that with mindful eating training for restaurant meals, participants showed a significant impact on weight and food intake.
In a second study with obese women, Elissa Epal, PhD, and her associate Jennifer Daubenmier found that the more mindfulness the women practiced, the more their anxiety, chronic stress and belly fat decreased.
By eating mindfully, you gain awareness of your enjoyment of food and eating. By practicing awareness of hunger, noticing what your body feels like when full, and learning to savor foods, you also can recognize when the food in front of you no longer is enjoyable.
“I wondered what would happen if people started engaging with foods in this way,” Kristeller says in The Monitor. Epal’s research studies so far indicate that with attention to eating, people can change their relationship to food “very quickly, and within a few sessions.”