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Stop Overeating: Understanding the Mind-Mouth Connection and Diabetes

How you eat -- not just what you eat -- can help you reach your health goals. This guide will explain how to listen to your body's internal cues, helping you keep your diabetes goals on track.

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Is it possible to let go of a negative relationship with food while eating foods you love? Proponents of mindful eating say yes.

Mindful eating, also known as intuitive or instinctive eating, may be the answer for people who want to try a new approach to food. Benefits could include a healthier body weight, easier weight maintenance, and learning to make food choices that foster healthy blood glucose, blood lipids, and blood pressure levels. Experts say eating mindfully can provide people with diabetes (PWDs) the confidence to trust themselves to eat what and how much is right for their bodies.

"Mindful eating is not a diet," says Susan Albers, Psy.D., a psychologist at the Cleveland Clinic Women's Health Center in Ohio and author of Eat, Drink, and Be Mindful (New Harbinger Publications, 2008). "It's how we eat instead of what we eat. A diet is about being in control, which implies you can get out of control. But eating mindfully is about being in charge."

The Theory

Mindful eating involves listening to internal cues instead of following external rules or a diet plan. It gives permission for you to eat what you love when you're hungry (even if it's a cookie) and to respond when your body tells you it's time to stop -- before you get uncomfortable. Eating this way removes the idea of good or bad foods and can counteract the yo-yo dieting that sometimes results from following a rigid diet.

"We are all born with this ability," says Marc Weigensberg, M.D., director of pediatric endocrinology for Los Angeles County + University of Southern California Medical Center's Women's and Children's Hospital and associate professor of clinical pediatrics at USC. "Infants stop nursing when they're full. A 2-year-old will leave a cookie half-finished. But we've let other messages from the culture or other needs we're feeling guide our eating."

Weigensberg says childhood experiences such as being told to clean your plate even when you weren't hungry can cover up the innate ability to eat to a comfortable and healthful level of fullness. But people can tap back into that ability with practice and awareness.

How It Works

Author of Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat (Am I Hungry?, 2009), Michelle May, M.D., says the approach may work especially well for PWDs type 2 because many develop diabetes after a lifetime of struggling with food and dieting, swinging between the extremes of restrictive eating and bingeing.

"For many people with type 2 diabetes, the doctor's response is,'Thou shalt control your blood sugar,'" she says. But a rigid approach to food can lead to cyclical overeating. To break the "eat, repent, repeat" cycle, May teaches mindful eaters to eat when they're hungry, not starved, and to eat to enjoy.

Eating mindfully can make binge trigger foods seem less appealing, says psychotherapist Donald Altman, LPC, the author of One-Minute Mindfulness (New World Library, 2011). Altman works with clients to eat slowly, take breaths between bites, and really taste the food. One client often binged mindlessly on cookies. When Altman asked the client to eat a cookie slowly and really appreciate the texture and taste, she realized it tasted unappealingly like cardboard.

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