How to Vanquish Food Cravings, Part 6

Jeffrey Norris recently reported for the University of California, San Francisco, on work done by researchers at that institution, on the subject of the stress hormone cortisol, and deep belly fat, the kind that surrounds and encases the internal organs, creating favorable conditions for diabetes and heart disease. Naturally, the topic has larger implications for obesity in general, including childhood obesity.

The discoveries of Jennifer Daubenmier, Ph.D., and Elissa Epel, Ph.D., add to the larger fund of knowledge that is being accumulated there, about the links between fat, health, and eating behavior. In this instance, the theory is that if people can more sensitively identify their feelings of hunger, and of taste satisfaction, and of fullness, they are far less likely to reach for the chocolate-covered bacon or grab the nearest bag of chips.

This is a reminder of something a correspondent once mentioned, about how the feeling of satisfaction is different from the grossness of a bursting, overstuffed stomach. There is a more subtle sensation, an organic signal the body sends, that signifies another kind of fullness. Talking about a dish composed of kale, carrots, and some other ingredients, she rhapsodized, “You feel like you’ve been fed.”

Here’s how the study went. First, the fat, cortisol levels, and psychological stress of the participants were measured, then:

24 of the 47 chronically stressed, overweight and obese women were randomly assigned to mindfulness training and practice, and the other 23 served as a control group… The training included nine weekly sessions, each lasting 2 1/2 hours, during which the women learned stress reduction techniques and how to be more aware of their eating by recognizing bodily sensations… At week six they attended an intensive seven-hour, silent meditation retreat. They were asked to set aside 30 minutes daily for meditation exercises and to practice mindful eating during meals.

After four months, everything was measured again. Cortisol starts being produced by the body when we wake up, and stressful events or perceived threats throughout the day can trigger the production of even more cortisol, so the stabilization of it is important. But there’s more to it than that, which is all explained in the article. The bottom line is: stress=bad, mindfulness=good.

Even without dieting or calorie-counting, mindful eating and the techniques of stress reduction were shown to make a measurable difference, and the subjects who were able to reduce their stress the most also showed the biggest loss of deep belly fat.

The whole idea is to cut out the automatic responses that trigger mindless eating, whether they originate in external cues or from internal emotional cues. The most surprising thing is, none of this is new. As the reporter tells us, the researchers used for their study the stress-reduction and mindful-eating techniques developed around 30 years ago by Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D.

On this page, the ideas of Dr. Kabat-Zinn are explained, along with his program which utilizes meditation, yoga, and martial arts. If you want to hear it from the man himself, a 72-minute video presentation is available.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Stress Reduction and Mindful Eating Curb Weight Gain Among Overweight Women,”, 12/07/11
Image (modified) by jetheriot (J E Theriot), used under its Creative Commons license.

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