Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Mindless or Mindful? Must One Choose?

While reading the article, "How to Eat Better - Mindlessly" and watching its accompanying video with Dr. Brian Wansink (click on red arrow at bottom right of article for video), I found myself thinking, "I guess I'm really not a dogma girl." Dr. Wansink, author of the book, "Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think," has been involved with a large body of research that shows that how much we eat and how we evaluate what we eat is heavily influenced by factors in our environment such as setting, word choice for descriptions of food, plate size, and placement and presentation of food. I find his research fascinating, and have experienced with my own family how simple environmental changes influence eating patterns. For example, if I put whole pieces of fruit in a bowl that is easily accessible to my family, it largely goes uneaten. If, however, I cut up pieces of fruit and put it on the table, it almost always gets eaten entirely.

Dr. Wansink states that the solution to mindless eating is not mindful eating for the vast majority of people because our stomachs are "a terrible gauge of how full (we) are." He is referring to a number of similar, yet distinct, approaches to eating which involve tuning into your body awareness about your sense of hunger and fullness. I value these approaches, including Ellyn Satter's model of eating competenceMichelle May's Am I Hungry program, and Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch's intuitive eating approach, because they all acknowledge the failure of traditional diets in maintaining a healthy weight and body image over time, and they all acknowledge that there is an emotional component to food and eating that needs to be addressed for longterm healthy eating patterns.

Must one really choose between an approach to food and eating that is mindful/intuitive/competent versus one that acknowledges the importance of environmental cues on our eating behaviors? As I said above, I guess I'm not really one to hold tightly to one particular model. In parenting my own children and in my work helping other parents, I value both the use of behavioral plans and of insightful understanding of psychodynamics and attachment relationships: two camps in psychology with a long history of division. I think each has its place and and utility. In my approach to raising children who are successful eaters, I believe it is important for parents to get out of the way and not interfere with most children's natural ability to eat according to their own internal cues of hunger and fullness. I also believe, however, that parents can positively influence their children's eating behaviors by using some anti-mindless environmental cues such as descriptive word choice, setting, and presentation with regard to food and meals.

What do you think? Am I the only one who finds the division between these two models to be unnecessary?

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