Is How You Eat as Important as What You Eat?

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In predicting future cardiovascular disease in preschoolers, is how children eat as important as what they eat? The surprising answer is yes.

A Canadian study led by Dr. Nav Persaud, a family physician, found “a significant association between poor eating habits in kids ages three to five and their levels of non-HDL-or ‘bad’-cholesterol, putting them at risk for cardiovascular disease later in life.”

The eating habits that place children at risk for heart disease in adulthood are
- eating while watching television;
- eating junk food between meals; and
- eating at will.

Dr. Persaud theorized that children who snack on junk food and eat while distracted with television or computer games are unable to recognize body cues telling them when they are full. Moreover, snacking in response to external cues, such as food advertisements on television, makes eating a balanced meal unlikely at suppertime.

According to Dr. Michelle May, who describes herself as a physician who successfully recovered from yo-yo dieting, these poor eating behaviors produce the same result in adults. The only difference is that adults face more distractions than children do. We talk on the phone, work through our lunch hour, eat while driving and so on.

As with the effect on the preschoolers, Dr. May asserts that these distractions keep us from responding to internal cues telling us that we are satisfied. Equally important, the distractions prevent us from experiencing physical satisfaction from eating, which Dr. May states is “a natural, healthy, and pleasurable activity when it’s done to satisfy hunger.” She adds, “The bottom line is that weight management is not just about what you eat. How you eat matters just as much.”

To become more mindful when eating, Dr. May recommends various strategies, including assessing one’s level of hunger before eating, eating only when seated, pausing for two full minutes during meals and pushing the dinner plate away when satisfied. (For a full list of Dr. May’s strategies, go here.)

Mindful eating-that is, eating with clear intention and focused attention-is a sound, inexpensive weight-loss plan. Are you ready to give it a try? If you decide to experiment with mindful eating, be sure to let me know about your results.

Photo courtesy of Geoff Peters on Flickr