Deborah Hill used to think she was skinny. Her 5 foot 9 inch frame could take on a lot of weight without making her look out of shape. But last year she was shocked to discover that she weighed over 210 pounds, which classified her as medically obese.
“It was just crazy,” says Hill. “I’d never had a problem with weight.”
Hill is one of a growing number of Americans—over 35 percent, according to the Center for Disease Control—who are considered obese, having a body mass index of 30 or greater. Obesity increases health risks like heart disease, stroke, and diabetes, to name a few, and the health care costs to treat obesity-related illness are skyrocketing, with CDC estimates in 2008 reaching $147 billion dollars.
But now there is a new prescription for combating obesity, one that goes beyond ubiquitous diet and exercise regimens: mindfulness, the moment-to-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, and surroundings.
“When most people do the raisin exercise, they are stunned by it. They see that if they eat a few raisins mindfully they can enjoy them as much or more than if they eat a whole box.”
Researchers are learning that teaching obese individuals mindful eating skills—like paying closer attention to their bodies’ hunger cues and learning to savor their food—can help them change unhealthy eating patterns and lose weight. And, unlike other forms of treatment, mindfulness may get at the underlying causes of overeating—like craving, stress, and emotional eating—which make it so hard to defeat.
Mindfulness has definitely helped Hill. In the last year, she has lost 40 pounds and developed a much healthier relationship to food and eating.
“Mindfulness has been huge for me,” she says.
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