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Mindfulness Could Help Tame Your Sugar Temptations, Study Suggests

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    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/09/03/mindfulness-temptation-sugar_n_3862430.html?utm_hp_ref=mostpopular Mindfulness Could Help Tame Your Sugar Temptations,
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      http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/09/03/mindfulness-temptation-sugar_n_3862430.html?utm_hp_ref=mostpopular

      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

      a box of chocolate-covered pretzels? If you share Ronald Reagan’s well-known

      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

      to consume calorie-dense, nutritionally-empty foods. Fortunately, research

      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

      Journal of Health Psychology, researchers from Swansea University and City

      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

      strategy.

      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

      strategy worked.

      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

      health.

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