If you’re still tempted to try this cliched diet, consider this: Evidence shows that restrictive dieting and rapid weight loss can lead to permanent changes that may slow your metabolism, alter hormones that regulate hunger, and hamper efforts to maintain your weight. Studies show that a body who loses weight responds to food and exercise differently than a body that isn’t dieting, and a dieter’s muscles may burn fewer calories than expected during exercise. These changes help explain why many chronic dieters eat far fewer calories than those around them, but still aren’t losing weight, said Dr. Rudolf Liebel, MD, professor of medicine at Columbia University’s Institute of Human Nutrition.
How are eating habits formed?
Addiction psychiatrist Dr. Brewer has tested a number of mindfulness practices to help people quit smoking, reduce anxiety, and reduce emotional eating. He also created an app called Eat Right Now that uses mindfulness exercises to help people change their eating habits.
A Brown University study of 104 obese women found that mindfulness training reduced craving-related eating by 40 percent. Another review by scientists at Columbia University found that training in intuitive, mindful eating often led to at least one metabolic or heart health benefit, such as improving glucose levels, lowering cholesterol, or improving blood pressure.
Brewer points out that eating behaviors, such as snacking on stray chips or eating candy, are often the result of episodes of habits that are reinforced over time.
Dr. Brewer explains that habit loops can be shaped by good and bad experiences. Ice cream, for example, is something we might eat during festivities. The brain learns to associate eating ice cream with feeling satisfied. While there is nothing wrong with ice cream, it can become a problem when we start eating it without thinking after an emotional trigger, such as when we feel stressed or angry. Now our brains have learned that ice cream also makes us feel good in times of stress, reinforcing the habit loop.
Over time, we can develop a number of habit loops that lead us to eat when we are bored, angry, stressed or tired after work or even just watching TV. “The tricky thing about habit loops is that as they become more automatic, over time you don’t consciously choose these actions,” Dr. Brewer said.
Dr. Brewer explained that by understanding the loops of your habits and the triggers behind them, you can help break the control they impose on you by refreshing your mind with new information. Mindfulness exercises, which prompt you to slow down and think about how and why you eat, can teach your brain that food that “feels good” does not make you feel as good as you remember. Practicing vigilance every time you reach for a food or decide to eat it can interrupt the cycle of habit.