I know a little bit about weight loss. I lost 100 pounds over twenty years ago. I did it with a LOT of hard work, healthy eating (or I thought so at the time–low fat and lots of carbs!), regular exercise and ridiculous amounts of water. It was hard, and it was worth it. What was and remains even harder though is maintaining that weight loss. It’s something I work at every day, and sometimes it’s a struggle. I find maintaining my 100 pound weight loss is a lot easier when I listen.

Here’s where you might think I’m going to go into the importance of listening to my body, and that’s absolutely a bedrock of maintenance. It deserves it’s own blog. However, the thing that makes it easier also makes me better and healthier in infinite ways. I am much more likely to really be listening to my body when I’m actively and consciously listening to others.

Listening is a lost art, though I don’t know we’ve every really owned it at all.  We spend so much of our lives and our time worried about being heard, and so little of our time worried about listening well. I believe listening unlocks presence, communion, understanding, patience and charisma. As an added perk it is, for me, the key to weight loss and maintenance. When I listen to the people I eat with, I eat less and enjoy it more. It’s that simple.

The other night, I was out to dinner with a friend. We hadn’t seen each other in eons, and that was clear by our excited chatter when we first hugged. We chatted back and forth hurriedly at first, but once we’d caught up on the basics we started to go deeper. She had a lot to share, and over dinner she talked while I listened. With good friends, there are times we monopolize the conversation, and times we’ll be doing all of the listening. At this dinner, I was the listener. I know this is true because my plate was clean long before hers was. She was busy talking, and I was busy listening.

You might think that means I was eating fast and mindlessly, but you’d be wrong. That’s much more likely to happen when I eat alone. When I’m eating with friends, and truly listening, I eat less and enjoy my food more. Truly listening takes mindfulness. In order to truly listen, I have to be very present. That means no phone, no distractions, and complete presence in the moment. It means my senses are all engaged–I see my friend, I hear my friend. At the same time, I smell my dinner, I taste my wine, and I feel my fork. I’m present in my body.

According to research, mindful eating sharpens the ability to recognize hunger and fullness. I believe mindful listening also sharpens the ability to recognize what your dining companion is hungering for, and what you might offer to fill that gap. Ideally, at the end of the meal everyone’s hunger is satiated, and everyone is full. We hope to have our hunger for love, approval, attention and presence as well met as our hunger for food and drink.

The holidays are coming, and that means turkey, mashed potatoes, pumpkin pie and eggnog. It also means times with friends and family you haven’t seen–or listened to–in a long time. Try the listening diet over the holidays. You might lose weight, you might not. I’m quite certain you’ll gain enough to make it worth the effort.