What Can Mindfulness Do, Exactly?


Not long ago, Childhood Obesity News looked at the ideas of Dr. Sandra Aamodt, who combined the concept of the “set point” with the recommendation to practice mindfulness in eating. According to this school of thought, each person’s body forms a notion of how big it should be, and stubbornly holds onto that notion. Once the body becomes accustomed to being a certain size, the set point goes up, and subsequent efforts to reduce that size are thwarted by a crazy idea that the body has adopted about how big it should be.

The “set point” theory does explain a couple of things, like why obesity is observably harder to escape when it starts very early in life. This is why it is so important to avoid overweight right from the start. In this arena, the definition of “the start” has been pushed backward from infancy to conception, and even before. The set point theory could also account for the undeniable fact that most people who attain significant weight loss are unable to sustain it.

The two enemies

One problem with reducing diets, in this paradigm, is that the set point persuades the body to perceive any loss as harmful deprivation. Even if the body is gigantic, it is paranoid, and reads the effort to restrict calories as the first step on the road to starvation. The body’s prime directive is to survive, so its instinct for self-preservation kicks in — all based on the belief that a reduction of fuel is an existential threat. It defends that erroneous belief by sabotaging and defeating any attempt to lose weight, especially by the method we call “dieting.”

One of the body’s strategies for defending the set point is to override common sense by making it so easy for us to eat mindlessly, to binge, and to find pleasure in foods and pseudo-foods that have horrible effects on us. Parts of the body scramble or misread chemical messages from other parts, and manufacture sensations that we translate as “MUST EAT NOW.”

A person who wants to carry around less weight is opposed by powerful forces from both inside and outside. All this confusion, perhaps caused by a violated set point that will not tolerate interference, goes on inside. Meanwhile, we are also attacked from the outside by influences in the environment, including easily accessible awful food everywhere, and the inconceivably powerful effect of advertising.

To the rescue

This is where mindfulness comes in. It can protect us against the inner urges and promptings by teaching us how to question, examine, assess, evaluate and reinterpret the scrambled messages. Mindfulness can also become a sturdy armor that deflects the corrosive influence of advertising and other environmental triggers.

Journalist Tom Jacobs recounts how a Vanderbilt University School of Medicine research team studied a small number of children. Out of 38 subjects, six were overweight and five obese, and the scientists concluded that mindfulness, which they define as “the learned ability to stay focused on the present moment,” could actually recalibrate neural system imbalance.

MRI scans revealed that unhealthful eating…

[…] is driven by an imbalance between two different patterns of brain activity: one that stimulates impulsiveness (the fundamental drive to eat and therefore survive), and another that stimulates inhibition (which puts the brakes on when you’ve eaten too much).

Also, it looks as if mindfulness training works much better on children than on adults, probably because their incompletely formed brains are still malleable.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Mindfulness May Help Curb Childhood Obesity”” PSMag.com, 01/21/16
Photo credit: DigitalRalph via Visualhunt/CC BY

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About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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