http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/09/03/mindfulness-temptation-sugar_n_3862430.html?utm_hp_ref=mostpopular Mindfulness Could Help Tame Your Sugar Temptations,Message 1 of 1 , Sep 6View Source
Mindfulness Could Help Tame Your Sugar Temptations, Study Suggests
By Travis Riddle
Think about your kitchen counter. Ignore the stack of papers by the light switch,
and pay no mind to the food crumbs left over from your breakfast this morning.
Instead, there exists a spot which, if you’re like many people, is devoted to a
very particular kind of snack. This spot is your own personal shrine to sweetness.
What’s occupying that spot right now? A plate of peanut butter cookies? Or maybe
affinity for bean-shaped foods, it might be a jar of jelly bellies. Regardless of what
kind of snack occupies this place, you no doubt are all too aware of the consequences
of the existence of this spot. Too frequently, it seems, you mindlessly reach out for a
dose of sugar, blithely overlooking all intentions to the contrary, and foiling your well-planned diet.
Despite our best intentions and valiant efforts, it seems like we’re programmed
psychologists have been working out how we can reprogram ourselves, and a
recent paper suggests one strategy that may be effective. Writing in the British
University London present the results of an experiment in which individuals who
resisted sweets by using mindfulness — a purposeful way of paying attention to
the present moment —consumed less of them.
In the experiment, the researchers recruited participants who responded to ads
for individuals looking to reduce their chocolate consumption. These participants
were then randomly assigned into one of three strategy groups: cognitive
“defusion,” acceptance, or control. In each group, participants were given a rationale
for their strategy, details of the strategy, and instructions for how to use the
For cognitive “defusion,” a term which means to change one’s relationship with
one’s thoughts, participants were instructed to view one’s self as different from
one’s thoughts. They were given a strategy often used by mindfulness practitioners —
the “mindbus” metaphor. An individual can be seen as the driver of a bus, and
thoughts as the passengers. They were then given a bag of chocolate to carry
around with them at all times over the next five days, and instructed to think of
the mindbus whenever they were tempted to eat a chocolate.
In the acceptance group, participants were told that an effective way of dealing with
food cravings was to simply accept these uncomfortable feelings, rather than
spending effort trying to control them. They were told about “urge surfing,” in
which participants were told to try acknowledge and ride out the urges, rather
than controlling or giving in to them.
The control group was told that relaxing was a good strategy to deal with cravings.
The strategy section for this group outlined a relaxation technique which
involved contracting and relaxing certain sets of muscles.
In addition to all participants being given a bag of chocolates, the researchers
wanted to account for any chocolate the participants may have eaten which did
not come out of the bag. For this reason, all participants were also given a
“chocolate diary,” in which they were told to record all other chocolate consumption.
After 5 days, all participants returned to the lab, where the experimenters counted
the chocolate remaining in the bag, and entered all consumption incidents recorded
in the diary. This gave the researchers two separate measurements of how
much chocolate each participant ate – the amount out of the bag, and the
amount recorded in the diary.
When compared to the control group, participants in the cognitive defusion group
ate significantly less chocolate from the bag than would be expected by chance.
What about the data from the diary? Did participants in the cognitive defusion group
also record less chocolate in the diary? Although the raw numbers from the diary
are consistent with the results from the bagged chocolate (13g versus 37g for the
control group) this comparison fell just short of the usual statistical bar for
scientific studies (the “p-value” which is related to how likely a finding is consistent
with pure chance, was .053, while the usual cutoff is .05 or less). However, because
it was very close, the researchers, in keeping with general practices in science,
thus interpret the diary data as somewhat weaker evidence that the mindfulness
If this leaves you wondering what the take-away point is of all this, then maybe you
can see how scientists sometimes disagree over what results say. Science is a
messy process, and this paper is a fine example of that. In this particular study, the
weight of all the evidence seems to suggest that a mindfulness strategy is effective
in reducing chocolate consumption over the course of five days. However, there are
still plenty of questions left unanswered. For example, what is it about mindfulness that
led participants in that condition to be more successful than those in the
control condition? The authors suggest that it may have something to do with the
idea that we often consume chocolate and other sweets in a relatively automatic
fashion, absent-mindedly grabbing a cookie as we walk past the shrine to sweetness
in our kitchen. Mindfulness, according to the authors, effectively disrupts this type
of automatic behavior.
In short, if you’re looking to reprogram yourself to eat fewer sweets, it seems like
being mindful of the experience of the present situation could help you out. With
such a strategy, instead of our thoughts driving us first to the kitchen and then to the
jar of jelly bellies, we might instead see those thoughts as passengers on the bus that
we are driving. This way, instead of munching a handful of jelly bellies, we can
drive ourselves away from the kitchen, and closer to our goals for personal
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