Four Critical Lessons for Mindful Eating

By Michelle May, M.D.
Elyse drivingDriving Lessons!
Elyse driving on 90 Mile Beach in New Zealand while we were visiting her Nana
(yes, they drive on the left Down under)!

While teaching my 17 year-old daughter to drive, it occurred to me that as challenging and scary (for both of us!) as it is, leaning this new skill is necessary for freedom in this land of abundant opportunities and experiences. Similarly, learning how to break the habit of dieting and learning to use mindful eating skills instead offers you unimaginable freedom in this land of abundant opportunities to eat and use the energy you consume.

Although Elyse was really excited to drive, she was afraid too. I hear this all the time from people who want to know if mindful eating can really work for them. It sounds promising but a little too good to be true. Besides, many of the people who will most benefit from this process have struggled with yoyo dieting and/or a love-hate relationship with food. The prospect of learning to eat what they love can trigger fear (read my article Fearless Eating on Huffington Post to understand more about the origins of this fear).

Elyse managed to set fear aside because she believed the risks would be worth it. (Of course, I had to do the same!) While teaching her this new skill of driving, I noticed several important things about how we learn. Given that my work is dependent on your ability to learn new skills, I wanted to share my observations with you.

Four Critical Lessons

  1. Practice makes the master. Elyse and I drove around and around (and around) a church parking lot, adding new skills to her repertoire each week. Learning to eat mindfully is a similar process. As you read (and reread) chapters 1 through 8 of Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat and practice your new skills, they become more natural, comfortable, and eventually instinctive.
  2. Mistakes are a necessary part of the learning process. When Elyse made a mistake, I didn’t yell at her, shame her, or tell her she was hopeless and would never learn to drive. I did my best to be calm and gentle so we could effectively analyze why the mistake occurred and determine what would work better next time. When you make a mistake, like overeating or choosing foods that leave you feeling “yucky,” what do you say to yourself to encourage yourself to keep trying?
  3. Awareness puts you in the driver seat. Driving requires continuous attention since conditions change moment by moment. I cautioned Elyse to stay present and learn to listen to, and eventually trust, her instincts. Likewise, our thoughts, feelings, physical state, and surrounding environment change constantly. Being mindful allows us to make the best decisions about eating (and everything else) that we can in that present moment.
  4. Never give up! As Elyse’s driving skills and instincts improved, we expanded her experiences to increasingly more complex situations – industrial parks, neighborhood streets, and eventually the freeway. Though she had a few setbacks along the way, we both knew that this process was too important and too valuable to give up on. Mindful eating is like that too. You might practice asking “Am I Hungry?”  and feel frustrated that you continue to eat even when the answer is “No.” As you build a larger repertoire of self-care skills, you’ll discover that eating anyway becomes less appealing over time. Soon, you’re able to ‘hit the road” and handle any of the challenges that come your way.

Bonus Lesson!

With freedom comes responsibility. Just as my daughter’s new found freedom liberated her from her dependence on her parents, the freedom that mindful eating affords is difficult to imagine until you have it. You are able to enter any restaurant, any party, or any stressful situation with the confidence that you have the ability to make decisions that serve your best interests. You don’t need a parental figure (like a diet) looking over your shoulder telling you what you can and can’t do, because you are in charge. You now have response-ability.

 

 

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