Nature Versus Mindfulness

It may be Darwin’s other Missing Link. When nearly 40% of us are fighting a losing battle with obesity, could the solution be as simple as Mindful substitution for temptation?

That’s the intriguing theory posed by a new study from Drexel University in Philadelphia, where psychology professor Evan Forman recruited 190 obese adults and randomly slotted them to weight loss approaches, which used standard behavioral therapies or a new approach labeled Acceptance-Based Therapy or ABT.

Forman suggests that traditional weight loss approaches fail because they’re based on deprivation. But we are biologically driven to eat to survive, so deprivation cuts against our evolutionary grain.

ABT, by contrast, concedes that deprivation is part of dieting and that’s hard, but ABT calls us out on our values: do we want to stay healthy or not? If we value our health, we’ll turn a blind eye to that beckoning brownie and reach for the apple instead.

So, how did ABT fair against the traditional approaches?

Over the span of one year in Forman’s study, the ABT group members lost more than 13 percent of their initial weight, on average, compared to the 5 percent to 8 percent associated with traditional behavior approaches.

"So many of the decisions we make around eating have no explicit thought process behind them," Forman said. “It’s hard to turn down pleasure and reward,” Forman says, “but those skills can be learned. It sounds weird, but you can literally practice tossing a piece of brownie in the trash and eating the apple instead,” he said.

He suggests it's possible that after the initial therapy sessions, people could have once-a-year "booster" sessions -- or even get help through mobile apps -- to make the approach more feasible.

“The similarities between the findings of Forman’s research and his recommendations for ongoing support are striking in their similarity to the program Positive Changes Hypnosis has offered for 30 years,” says Sandra Norman. “The difference is that we use hypnosis to curb that sense of deprivation and keep focus on the goal: which is eating to live rather than living to eat. It is all about choice and we work with people to keep them motivated to make the best choice for wellness. We augment a client’s private hypnosis sessions with personal coaching and recorded “booster sessions” that we call Accelerations because they accelerate one’s progress.

The Drexel study is published in the October issue of the journal Obesity.