07/13/2012 03:51 pm ET Updated Sep 12, 2012

Mindful Eating vs. Obesity

You fold a tiny raisin into your hand, perhaps thinking about the journey it made to reach you, farmers planting seeds, nature providing water. You squeeze the creases of the aged, dried grape, maybe feeling the wrinkles as the hands that picked the ripened fruit had done. You smell the raisin, probably something you never bothered to do before, potentially remembering jellies or toast that oozed this odor, and where you were, what you were doing. And then, finally, you bite, careful not to swallow at first. You sense the juices squirting out. Your taste buds salivate, even if you always thought raisins were squirmy things packed in your lunch or stuck in bread.

How can a shriveled raisin taste so good? And can this type of mindful eating really heal our expanding bodies and starved souls as legendary Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh and Dr. Lilian Cheung (lecturer, and the director of health promotion and communication at Harvard School of Public Health's Department of Nutrition) claim? In their wonderful book Savor, they laud the benefits of being thoughtful about what and who produced our food, of eating slowly, of relishing the moment rather than anticipating the next bite(s), of thereby giving our digestive systems time to feel full, of healthily nourishing rather than...

Mindlessly over-feeding and numbing our bodies, which is what's been happening globally across age, gender, and economic demographics. Although powerful role models like Michelle Obama and Beyonce use dance and community farming to fend off unhealthy over-eating, powerful businesses use super-size help from media and public policy/law (or lack of) to fuel and exploit the pandemic.

"Attention to childhood obesity has increased in tandem with the growing epidemic, but despite this intense focus, successes in prevention have lagged far behind," Dr. Bryn Austin, Harvard Medical School/School of Public Health associate professor asserts in The American Journal of Public Health. "There is a blind spot in our drive for childhood obesity prevention that prevents us from generating sufficiently broad solutions. Eating disorders and the constellation of perilous weight-control behaviors are in that blind spot."

With a background in science journalism, Dr. Austin covers many angles of the story, raising important issues about links in this food chain. As director of STRIPED -- Strategic Training Initiative for the Prevention of Eating Disorders -- she brings together experts in eating disorders, public health, adolescent preventive medicine, health law, policy, economics, and other disciplines in an innovative public health incubator. "Evidence is mounting that obesity and eating disorders are linked in myriad ways, but entrenched myths about eating disorders undermine our ability to see the full range of leverage points to target in obesity preventive intervention studies," she notes.

Mindfully, I chew over Dr. Austin's questions: "Get thin quick" formulas are force-fed through new and old media to ever-hungry consumers, but have these fast-fix chemicals been sufficiently scrutinized by nutritional experts for healthiness? Why are laxatives being abused by adults but also by underage teens? Why are there no warnings on some containers that certain dietary aids are addictive and increase rather than diminish eating disorders? And a huge "why" that's hard to swallow: Why do obesity prevention trials with children tend to ignore childhood eating disorders, which now impact males and females in all racial/ethnic/economic groups?

It's a lot for me to absorb. As I digest my tiny raisin, I continue to contemplate the big picture of what we all are being fed.

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