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“The Mouth Orgasm (MO) scale has nothing to do with sex but everything to do with the very sensual and whole-body experience of present-moment — mindful — eating, as described in Cravings,” says Durban-born clinical psychologist Helen Perry, who dreamed up the scale while watching her weight balloon 20 years ago (see extract).

“I was an emotional eater,” the Brisbane-based former yo-yo dieter, now an advocate of mindfulness, mindful eating and mindful self-compassion, says. “I mean, what do you do if you’re sad, mad, glad, drunk, stressed, sore, miserable, homesick, bored, celebrating, crying or lonely? You eat, right?”

Or, like Perry, you break these patterns, make changes and start eating for hunger, pleasure and good health.

“You are what you eat” has long been a popular mantra. You are “how” you eat is proving to be as, or more, relevant, when it comes to good health and sustainable weight loss.

The “how” involves eating with mindful awareness and engaging the senses: being in-the-moment present to what you’re eating, the taste, texture, flavours and the in-the-body experience and how it makes you feel.

A growing body of research, especially in the broad field of cognitive behavioural therapy, Perry’s long-time focus, is showing that eating mindfully can be key to healthy, sustainable weight loss.

It involves consciously, and with a playful awareness when using the MO scale and other mindfulness strategies, working with the brain and how habits form and change (neuroplasticity).

While conventional diets are generally rigid, temporary (in terms of duration and weight loss) and involve rules and deprivation, mindful eating involves pleasure, nurturing and working with what works, person to person. Perry lost weight in a sustainable way when she became conscious of what she wanted to eat. 

Namely, “full-fat foods eaten without guilt, heaps less sugar and processed carbs than I previously had eaten and a tad more protein. I began to enjoy cooking and eating real, unprocessed food and leaving food on my (much smaller) plate at every meal, just because I could.

"And the weight started slipping away and my body began changing shape. I was amazed.”

Hope might spring eternal, but diets don’t work. Anyone who has tried a number of them knows this. Mindfulness, however, can - and does.