Can Turning Off the TV While You Eat Really Help You Lose Weight?

One researcher believes that just changing the way you think about food will help you lose weight.

by Jelisa Castrodale
May 20 2017, 8:00pm

Photo by Flickr user Delphine Jankowski.

Are you struggling to lose weight? Apparently you don't need to start another restrictive meal plan, meticulously count your calories, or even take an annoyingly upbeat exercise class. Nope, according to one researcher, if you want to lose weight, all you need to do is start thinking about your food a little more. No, really.

Dr. Carolyn Dunn, the head of the Department of Youth, Family, and Community Sciences at North Carolina State University, says that eating mindfully is one of the keys to weight loss. If Dr. Dunn is to be believed, you can have all of the towering cake batter milkshakes that you want, provided that you sit quietly and think about the milkshake while you're trying to suck it through a straw—and provided that you stop after one or two mouthfuls.

"We instruct people to eat the foods that they love, and not give them up, but to eat them in a mindful way," Dunn said, during a recent presentation at the European Congress on Obesity.
According to the Guardian, Dunn asserts that, when you eat mindfully, you're often satisfied after one or two bites, because those first couple of forkfuls are the ones that provide the most pleasure.

"Eating more will certainly give you more calories but not more enjoyment," Dunn says, which sort of makes sense. The idea of mindful eating—or of its direct opposite—isn't new. A decade ago, Dunn was among the authors of a study on Mindless Eating, discovering that the average person could underestimate or overlook more than 200 food-related decisions every day. That could mean anything from being so distracted by the TV that you eat beyond the point of being full, or completely forgetting that you take a handful of Jolly Ranchers every time you walk past your co-worker's desk.

READ MORE: This Study Says the 'Cure' for Your Chocolate Addiction Is Mindfulness

The idea of mindful eating also has a connection to Buddhist teachings. "In one common [Buddhist] exercise, a student is given three raisins, or a tangerine, to spend 10 or 20 minutes gazing at, musing on, holding and patiently masticating," the New York Times wrote in 2012, describing the worst dinner companion ever.

"Mindful eating is becoming more important," Harvard nutritionist and author Dr. Lilian Chung said at the time. "We need to be coming back to ourselves and saying: 'Does my body need this? Why am I eating this? Is it just because I'm so sad and stressed out?'" (OR MAYBE I'M JUST READING ABOUT JAMES COMEY ALL DAY, LILLIAN).

Regardless, Carolyn Dunn would be glad to teach you how to eat mindfully. She offers a 15-week online course called Eat Smart, Move More, Weigh Less, which "empowers and motivates participants to live mindfully as they make choices about eating and physical activity." It also costs $235. (And, ironically, some of the online lessons are taught at lunchtime, when we're supposed to be MINDFULLY THINKING ABOUT OUR FOOD AND NOTHING BUT OUR FOOD.)

Dunn has tested the efficiency of her program and, according to her results, participants lost an average of 4.2 pounds over the course of the 15 weeks. "People did increase their mindfulness and they did absolutely decrease their weight," she said. Yeah, technically she's right, but the participants lost around one pound per month.

According to Prevention, one pound is about what a person would lose if they stopped drinking soda for a month, skipped the whipped cream on their Starbucks Frappuccino OR cut out their weekly pint of Ben & Jerry's.

Marissa Lippert, a registered dietician, told the magazine that if a person makes small changes to their diet—without adding any exercise—he or she could expect to lose between four and eight pounds per month. And that's without turning the TV off or spending 20 minutes thinking about three raisins. Yay, mindlessness!