Learning to cope with cravings and eat mindfully helped Jerome Wilson lose 135 pounds

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Name: Jerome Wilson

Age: 55

Residence: Philadelphia

Job: Loans and account representative for Drexel University

Marital Status: Married, father of four grown children

Peak Weight: 330 pounds

Current Weight: 195 pounds

In 2011, when Jerome Wilson started a job at Drexel University, reaching his office meant tackling stairs. “I had to climb this marble staircase, and dragging 300-plus pounds up and down those steps was too much on my knees. Something had to give,” he says. “I needed to make a change in my life. If I didn’t I would be facing serious health issues.” His weight had led to osteoarthritis in his knees and ankles, and he expected it would also contribute to diabetes and high blood pressure if he didn’t do something.

When he heard about a weight-loss study at Drexel’s WELL Center he signed up. It took a significant commitment. The National Institutes of Health–funded program, called Mind Your Health, ran for three years and brought together a range of strategies to promote weight loss.

MAKING THOUGHTFUL CHOICES

Evan M. Forman, Ph.D., director of the WELL Center and lead researcher for the study, points out that, for weight loss, taking in less energy that you are expending is key. “But for pretty much everyone, that’s really hard to do. We tried to figure out why it’s so hard,” he says.

A huge factor is that we are biologically motivated to seek out and eat high-calorie food. “And psychologically, it’s especially hard to resist when this food is around you, cheap, and available,” he says.

The program taught people how to be hungry, or have a craving, without turning to food. They learned to accept things the way they are and to be OK with their state of mind.

Wilson says that strategy worked for him. “You can say, ‘I see that chocolate cake, I love chocolate cake, but I don’t have to eat chocolate cake,’” he says. “Or, you can eat the chocolate cake, but if you’re serious about your calorie intake, that make be the only thing you can eat that day.”

WHAT’S DRIVING THE DESIRE TO LOSE WEIGHT?

The program also helped strengthen people’s motivation so they could overpower their natural desire to seek pleasure. People learned to look past goals like “lose weight” or “look better.”

“We wanted to get to more deep-seated values: What is life about to you? How can you use that to help with your weight loss? What about being a parent, grandparent, traveler, learner — what values are in your life?” Forman says. “You can have a powerful value that should be running your life, but in our hectic, modern life you’re not thinking about that.”

He recommends putting an image or phrase on your phone home screen so every time you turn on your phone you’re reminded of your values. “When you become more mindful of your deepest values you can use them in moments of making a decision. It’s in your mind many times a day,” he says.

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