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Breast Cancer Prevention: How Mindfulness Brings Lasting Change
In Part Three of our series, we explain how to adopt a balanced lifestyle to achieve your wellness goals.
For many, willpower lies at the heart of our ability to achieve our wellness resolutions. However, focusing on this discipline is not the most effective way to accomplish our goals. In Part Three of our series, we focus on being mindful in our daily lives to make our resolutions part of who we are rather than a chore, obligation or contest.
What is Mindfulness?
Simply put, mindfulness is the process of noticing things, of being engaged in the present.
Dr. Ellen Langer, professor of psychology of Harvard Medical School and leading mindfulness researcher, explains, “Most people much of the time are mindless. They are simply ‘not there.’” Our minds tend to drift, we lose focus and become anxious or overwhelmed by the world around us.
Being aware, or mindful, of the triggers that drive us to our unhealthy lifestyle choices can improve our physical, mental and emotional health. The whole person, or holistic approach to wellness incorporates not only diet and exercise but also emotional and spiritual wellbeing. Being mindful can help us incorporate new healthier behaviors into our daily routines.
How can being mindful help us reach our weight goals?
A growing body of scientific evidence suggests that mindful eating such as noticing the colors, smells, flavors, and textures of food; chewing slowly; avoiding distractions like TV or reading can help some people lose weight, as well as cope with compulsive eating behaviors.
A study reported at the European Congress on Obesity in 2017 demonstrated that dieters could eat the foods they loved by eating them mindfully. When participants were advised to eat their favorite food with mindfulness and with purpose– to enjoy each bite– the participants were more satisfied and ate less, saving the uneaten portion for later.
“Mindful eating is eating with purpose, eating on purpose, eating with awareness, eating without distraction,” Carolyn Dunn, lead author on the study, said in an interview for the Guardian. “But it is also about the way people shop for food and the choices they make in restaurants and the grocery store.”
The Harvard Medical School lists these starters to slow down and be more mindful about eating.
- Set your kitchen timer to 20 minutes, and take that time to eat a normal-sized meal.
- Try eating with your non-dominant hand; if you're a righty, hold your fork in your left hand when lifting food to your mouth.
- Use chopsticks if you don't normally use them.
- Eat silently for five minutes, thinking about what it took to produce that meal, from the sun's rays to the farmer to the grocer to the cook.
- Take small bites and chew well.
- Before opening the fridge or cabinet, take a breath and ask yourself, "Am I really hungry?" Do something else, like reading or going on a short walk.
You may also want to check out the Mindful Diet at your local library (also available on e-book) to immerse yourself in a clinically tested mindfulness program for weight loss.
Finding a work-life balance
Most us find it difficult to separate work from home life. In this age of multitasking, the lines become blurred inviting stress from one domain to enter the other. Unabated, this can lead to distraction that affects our concentration, our relationships and can lead to unhealthy eating habits. Research suggests that mindfulness-based stress reduction interventions can improve job satisfaction, reduce stress and anxiety and improve overall outlook.
How much sleep do we need?
Sleep is fundamental to life. Although scientists don’t completely understand why we need sleep, research has shown it is an active and dynamic state that influences our daily functioning and our physical and mental health. According to the American Sleep Association, the average adult needs about eight hours of sleep, however that number may fluctuate based on a person’s individual genetic makeup.
Sleep deprivation has become a common symptom of our busy lifestyles and 24/7 connectivity. According to the Centers for Disease Control, which labeled it a national health epidemic, an estimated 70 million adults suffer from sleep deprivation in the U.S.
The same lifestyle recommendations that promote a healthy weight and reduce risks of disease like heart disease and Type II diabetes will also improve sleep. If you find yourself dozing during the middle of the day or needing coffee to stay alert, you are mostly likely sleep deprived.
To learn more about getting the sleep you need, visit sleep.org for tips and information.
Mindfulness and breast cancer
Studies have shown mindfulness-based stress reduction can be effective in alleviating anxiety and depression, decreasing long-term emotional and physical side effects of treatments and improving the quality of sleep in breast cancer patients. Scientists caution, however that sustained benefit requires ongoing mindfulness practice.
The current body of evidence points to a modest benefit of mindfulness in certain aspects of psychological and physical functioning, compared to a waitlist control group, according to an editorial by BCRF investigator Dr. Julienne Bower.
“The degree to which effects of mindfulness are more enduring than other interventions, along with strategies for maintaining these effects,” she said, “is an important question for future research.”
The American Society of Clinical Oncology supports the use of mindfulness-based and cognitive behavioral interventions for symptoms of pain, fatigue and to improve sleep for mildly affected cancer patients. Meditation classes are widely available in many communities and cancer care centers.
For more information on mindfulness and cancer treatment, check out the following resources:
Cancer Support Community.org: Managing stress