As if we needed any more reasons to live in the present: Being mindful may be linked with having a flatter belly, according to an October 2015 study published in International Journal of Behavioral Medicine.
Researchers analyzed the mindfulness scores (determined by a 15-question survey known as the Mindful Attention Awareness Scale) and health data (amount of belly fat, BMI, etc.) of about 400 people from the New England Family Study. The participants with higher mindfulness scores showed better heart health, were more physically active and less likely to smoke. Meanwhile participants who had low mindfulness scores were 34 percent more likely to be obese and had an extra pound of belly fat compared with the highest-scoring participants.
Mind Your Mindlessness
We all know the tragic tale of mindless eating: One minute you're just going to have a couple chips while you watch your favorite show and by the end of the episode you've demolished the entire bag.
"Mindfulness is like a yield sign, you naturally slow down and look around before you proceed," says Susan Albers, PsyD, clinical psychologist at the Cleveland Clinic and author of 50 More Ways To Soothe Yourself Without Food: Mindfulness Strategies to Cope with Stress and End Emotional Eating.
So while it's important to note that this study shows an association between being mindful and belly fat, not cause and effect, it makes sense that people who are more self-aware would be less likely to find themselves in the I-can't-believe-I-ate-the-whole-bag situation in the first place.
"When people are aware of what they are feeling and intentionally focusing on the thoughts, emotions, and sensations of their body at any given moment, they have a heightened sense of self-awareness," says DeJarra K. Sims, ND, an assistant professor at the School of Naturopathic Medicine at Bastyr University California in San Diego and author of Your Healthiest Life Now. "This self-awareness is what helps them to halt or redirect themselves before participating in any unhealthy activity."
How to Live More in the Present
"When a person becomes more mindful, they notice an improvement in many areas of their life," Dr. Albers says. "They eat more mindfully, have better relationships and are happier and healthier. It's like a ripple effect through their life."
The nice thing about mindfulness is that it's a personalized skill. Whatever works for you, well, works for you!
"You don't need a robe, a statue of Buddha and to meditate to become mindful," says Michael Mantell, PhD, a behavior sciences coach based in San Diego. "Simply become more focused on the present, quietly, becoming aware of now, not there or then. Perhaps create a word that helps you snap into 'now.' Sound like a mantra? It is."
Dr. Mantell suggests that people begin with deeper awareness when they do simple things such as tie their shoelaces, open a door or walk up stairs. "Think of who made your shoelaces, who built the door, who built those stairs so you don't go crashing through them," he says.