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Meet America’s #1 Cause of Preventable Death (It’s Not Smoking)

In All Health Watch, Diet and Nutrition, Featured Article, General Health, Weight Loss

For decades, the National Institute of Health has told us that smoking is the top cause of preventable deaths in the U.S.

Smoking leads to heart disease, lung cancer, emphysema, and other lethal illnesses. It kills 480,000 Americans a year. Research shows that smoking shortens lifespan by an average of 10 years.1

But a new study from Cleveland Clinic and New York University School of Medicine shows that obesity causes far more loss of life than tobacco use. Researchers found that obesity resulted in 47% more life-years lost than smoking.2

Glen Taksler is an internal medicine researcher at Cleveland Clinic and lead author of the study. “These preliminary results continue to highlight the importance of weight loss, diabetes management, and healthy eating,” said Taksler.

The research recently was presented at the 2017 Society of General Internal Medicine Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C.

Scientists noted that while fewer people are smoking, more Americans than ever are plagued by weight issues. In 2015, just over 15% of adults in the U.S. were regular smokers. That’s down from 21% a decade earlier.3

Meanwhile, obesity rates are now nearly 38%. That’s up from 25% in 2005.4

Mindful Eating Cuts Belly Fat

Why are so many Americans so overweight? One thing’s for sure, it isn’t because of lack of dieting. More Americans than ever—45 million—say they are on a diet. And we spend more than ever—$33 billion a year—on weight loss products.

Yet more of us than ever are overweight.

Clearly, diets aren’t helping.

Dr. Lilian Cheung of the Harvard School of Public Health says there is a better way. She has pioneered a weight loss method called “mindful eating.”

It is simply the act of being more aware of what you put in your mouth.

“Right now in the digital age we’re always multitasking, eating on the run,” says Dr. Cheung. “We’re often not really conscious of what we’re eating.”5

Research has shown that distracted eating led to subjects eating up to 25% more food.6

A separate study found that women who practice mindful eating lost weight without dieting and had less belly fat. They also had lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol.7

Mindful eating is not a diet. There is no calorie counting. There are no meal plans. No forbidden foods. It doesn’t rely on deprivation. It involves being fully aware of what is happening in the moment while you’re eating.

5 Steps to Eating Mindfully

Approach eating as a form of quiet meditation. It’s a time to relax and enjoy the meal in front of you. With mindful eating, you focus on colors, smells, flavors, and textures of foods, says Dr. Cheung.8 9

  1. Set a Timer. Before you start eating, set any kind of timer for 20 minutes. This is the minimum amount of time eating a meal should take. Your brain takes that long to recognize you are full and send satiety signals. Make sure to eat your normal-sized meal.

It may be difficult at first to make the plate last the full 20 minutes.

  1. Focus on Your Meal. When you sit down to eat, you should be free of distractions.

Turn off the TV. Put your cell phone or tablet out of reach. Don’t read at the table. If you’re eating with someone, eat silently for the first five minutes. When you do talk, try to keep the conversation focused on the meal. 

  1. Eat like a Food Critic. They can’t rush through a meal in five minutes. Instead, they must savor and think deeply about the food they are about to eat.

Take a few moments to observe your food. Study the visual qualities of the meal. Note the colors and textures of what’s on the plate. Concentrate on the aroma.

Research shows messaging molecules used for digestion increase by more than 50% at the sight and smell of food. This means you will feel fuller with less food.

  1. Make your first bite small. Pay attention to the first flavors you experience. As you chew, note how the food feels in your mouth. The flavor of what you’re eating will change as you chew.
  1. Chew your food thoroughly. Dr. Cheung recommends chewing each bite at least 10 times. Chewing begins the chemical process of digestion. Enzymes in your saliva break down the food. This helps food pass through your intestines and you feel fuller, quicker, making it easier to eat less.10


Mindful eating is a simple solution for changing how you think about food. When you’re conscious of what you eat, it puts your brain back in charge of your body…and that’s the first step toward regaining your natural, lighter weight.

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1 http://www.belmarrahealth.com/obesity-now-tops-tobacco-use-preventable-life-years-lost/
2 https://newsroom.clevelandclinic.org/2017/04/22/cleveland-clinic-study-finds-obesity-top-cause-preventable-life-years-lost/
3 https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/data_statistics/fact_sheets/adult_data/cig_smoking/
4 http://healthyamericans.org/reports/obesity2005/Obesity2005Report.pdf
5 https://blog.everymothercounts.org/dr-lillian-cheung-discusses-mindful-eating-b28eb5ee19a9
6 http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2295303/Why-eating-TV-makes-fat-You-consume-25-LATER-day-realising.html
7 https://www.ucsf.edu/news/2011/12/11091/stress-reduction-and-mindful-eating-curb-weight-gain-among-overweight-women
8 https://blog.everymothercounts.org/dr-lillian-cheung-discusses-mindful-eating-b28eb5ee19a9
9 http://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/distracted-eating-may-add-to-weight-gain-201303296037
10 https://blog.everymothercounts.org/dr-lillian-cheung-discusses-mindful-eating-b28eb5ee19a9