Think about what you were doing 20 years ago… are you still doing it? If so, why? And how is it different today?
These are the questions I’ve pondered as we celebrate 20 years of Am I Hungry? Mindful Eating Programs and Training. Here’s an overview of the history of Am I Hungry?
The seed was planted
Twenty years ago, I was still practicing family medicine full time and was well on my way to freedom from chronic yo-yo dieting. However, many of my patients were still struggling and I decided I could do something to help.
I got a brochure in the mail about an “obesity” conference and thought I might learn how to take the next step. However, what I heard there were the same old damaging messages that I knew had contributed to my 25-year history of disordered eating. In one of the final sessions, the marketing expert told the audience, “Be really nice to your patients so when they gain their weight back, they’ll return to you to lose it again.”
Ugh! I didn’t want any part of it!
A new non-diet approach was born
So, I assembled a small team—a licensed psychologist, exercise physiologist, and registered dietitian—to develop a new “non-diet” approach that wasn’t based on weighing, measuring, or counting food. We began writing a workbook and offering weekly workshops. (Those were long, busy days! I had two young children and continued to see patients in my private practice too, so sometimes we were writing the materials just a week or two ahead of the next workshop!)
Unlike diets that prescribe specific rules about what and how much to eat and exercise, we went the opposite direction. We wanted to help people make these decisions for themselves by relearning to listen to and trust their instinctive ability to feed themselves. And that meant no rules, no good or bad foods, and no earning the right to eat.
“This program helped me change the negative thoughts I had about myself and food. It is becoming a lifestyle I can live with not a short-term fix.” – Dona
It may seem counter-intuitive, but this liberation from restrictive eating helped participants break the cycle we call “eat-repent-repeat.” They reported they were having fewer cravings, less obsession with food, no guilt when they ate certain foods, and as a result, they were able to enjoy the foods they loved without having to pay penance.
“I love eating when I am actually physically hungry.” – Shannon
As people developed a more peaceful relationship with food, they became more aware of their other triggers for eating. An important part of our program became guiding them to recognize and meet other needs they attempted to meet with food.
“I used to think of food as the enemy. Now I realize that I was using food as a way to comfort myself when I was emotionally stressed. Now I exercise or talk to friends instead of going right to food to comfort myself. I don’t use food as a reward but as a tool to help me live a better life.” – Lynne
I learned so much during this process, especially from all our participants. We were continually rewriting the materials to reflect the concepts and activities that resonated most with them. I didn’t know the term back then, but we were actively engaged in continuous quality improvement—and we continue to evolve our programs and materials twenty years later!
The groundwork was laid
After five years of working with hundreds of individuals, we eventually landed on the format, strategies, and skills that have become the foundation of our “Mindful Eating Program.”
The intention of this inside-out approach is to guide participants to become the experts in decoding the signals our bodies constantly giving us about our needs.
“It doesn’t just help people who really struggle; it can help nearly every single person in our non-mindful, faster, higher, stronger society live a more peaceful, calm, joyful life!” – Nina
At the same time, diet culture was exploding
I’ll be honest; back then, mindful eating wasn’t a thing, so it was challenging to explain why we had chosen to take a non-diet approach when the number of diet programs and “experts” selling weight-loss advice on the new and expanding Internet was growing exponentially.
Still, the word got out about our unique approach and the referrals from individuals and other health professionals started rolling in. Nowadays, there’s a lot more research showing that diets are not only ineffective for most people long-term, but often lead to weight cycling, disordered eating, and weight stigma. But we already knew that from the many stories our participants had shared with us over the years.
“I never realized that I had allowed food and exercise so much power. I have been taught life changing tools. I never thought that such a positive change could occur so easily.” – Tamra
Since then, we’ve adapted the program for various issues and populations including diabetes, binge eating, and bariatric surgery. We’ve also made the workshops available in various settings including self-paced online classes, colleges, workplace wellness, yoga studios, online mindful eating support community, and coaching.
Celebrate your own liberation from chronic yo-yo dieting!
If you haven’t experienced any of our mindful eating programs, I encourage you to see if you have a workshop, therapist, instructor, or coach in your area!
If you don’t have any near you, check out our self-paced online classes.
Ahead of the times…
Next, I’ll talk about the 17 rejection letters I got from book publishers who just didn’t get it! I’ll also, share the new graphic we created to help you select the version of Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat that meets your needs.
The mother of invention
In 2004, we were working on yet another update of our workbook and thought, “Wait! If our participants are experiencing this much healing and transformation in their relationship with food, it’s time to write a book instead so we can reach people beyond our immediate circle of influence!”
I read every I could about writing and publishing books. We titled our book, “Am I Hungry? What to Do When Diets Don’t Work” and began working on the book proposal. Writing the proposal inspired me to organize all the concepts and skills for people who may not have the benefit of a workshop or facilitator.
Although the ideas are simple, they are not easy.
It was during that process that I developed the Mindful Eating Cycle, which has since become the foundation of every workshop, book, and training we offer! The Mindful Eating Cycle guides you through a series of questions beginning with why you eat in the first place all the way through understanding where you invest the energy you’ve consumed. The cycle provides the simple but necessary structure for becoming aware of the hundreds of eating decisions you make every day.
After all, you can only change what you are aware of.
When the book proposal was ready, we got an agent who loved the concept and sent it off to a couple dozen publishers. Most either rejected it or didn’t even bother to reply. Those who replied usually said something along the lines of, “What do you mean diets don’t work? People are buying diet books like crazy! Can you write one of those?”
Nope! This just confirmed my belief:
If diets really worked, why would people have to keep buying diet books?
An author and a publisher
Discouraged but more determined than ever, I decided the best course of action was to become a small publisher. That turned out to be a great decision, with 14 books, workbooks, and training manuals published by Am I Hungry? Publishing today.
Just as we hoped, Am I Hungry? reached many readers and helped spread the word about how to stop dieting and start living. (“Stop dieting, start living” was our original tagline but ironically, Weight Watchers, the biggest diet in the world, started using it! We immediately dropped it and decided “Eat mindfully, live vibrantly” describes the purpose and results of our work even better!)
Five years after Am I Hungry? was written, it was due for a major overhaul. I changed the title and the cover and modified much of the content to reflect our evolving understanding and conviction that restrictive eating leads to disordered eating.
The first edition of Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat: A Mindful Eating Program to Break Your Eat-Repent-Repeat Cycle was released in 2010, updated in 2013, then underwent another major revision in 2017 to be completely consistent with our weight-neutral approach and help more with emotional eating.
(Unfortunately, it has been difficult to get old copies of Am I Hungry? and earlier editions of Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat off the market, so PLEASE be sure your copy has UPDATED on the cover!)
Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat for your specific needs
Over the years, I have been very fortunate to have the opportunity to collaborate with other passionate experts to adapt Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat to meet the specific needs of different readers.
We now have four versions of Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat and several workbooks to address the issues facing certain audiences and conditions. Since all of the books are based on the structure of the Mindful Eating Cycle, there is about a 50% overlap in the content. The rest was written specifically for each topic.
We realize that’s made things a bit more complicated, so we created a new graphic to help you decide which version to get. Click the image or click here to open it as a larger PDF that’s easy to follow. Wherever you see a colored box, click to open the web page.
Here are some questions to consider when deciding which book to get…
Do you have prediabetes or diabetes?
Megrette Fletcher, a dietitian, diabetes educator, and founder of The Center for Mindful Eating, approached me after hearing me speak about mindful eating and said, “You know, many of my patients with diabetes struggle with the eat-repent-repeat cycle too, and that plays havoc with their blood sugars!”
So, we developed the Mindful Eating with Diabetes Program to include diabetes education that meets National Standards but from a non-restrictive perspective that’s more sustainable than rigid diabetes meal plans.
We initially published Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat with Diabetes: A Mindful Eating Program for Thriving with Prediabetes or Diabetes with a traditional publisher in 2012. We soon realized we needed to revise it to make it completely weight-neutral, but the publisher wasn’t willing. We finally acquired the rights and released the second edition in 2017. (Be sure you have the one with UPDATED on the cover!)
Do you struggle with emotional and/or binge eating?
During one of my Mindful Eating Retreats, a participant, Kari Anderson, an eating disorder therapist, said, “I’ve wanted to create a program specifically for binge eating and the Mindful Eating Cycle is the perfect structure. I’d love to work with you to modify it to address the issues people with binge eating struggle with.” And so we did!
Together we developed the Mindful Eating for Binge Eating Program. For her doctorate at Arizona State University, Kari conducted a pilot study showing the ten-week program was effective for eliminating binge eating, decreasing psychological distress, and improving health behaviors. One-year follow-up is pending publication; preliminary analysis shows that the results were sustained for the majority of participants.
 Anderson, K., & May, M. (2012). The Mindful Eating Cycle: Treatment for Binge Eating Disorder. Arizona State University, Doctor of Behavioral Health, Culminating Project. (Abstract)
Based on the results of this research, we published Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat for Binge Eating: A Mindful Eating Program to Heal Your Relationship with Food and Your Body.
Then, earlier this year, we released the Mindful Eating for Binge Eating Companion Workbook and Awareness Journal that had previously only been available to program participants.
We also offer an annual Mindful Eating for Emotional and Binge Eating Retreat that gets rave reviews from our participants. (I hope you’ll consider joining us in October!)
Have you had (or are you considering) bariatric surgery?
We found that some participants in our Mindful Eating Program had already had bariatric surgery. Since most bariatric surgery programs are pretty restrictive, patients often continued to struggle with the eat-repent-repeat cycle and maladaptive eating habits that can lead to problems after bariatric surgery.
Our workshop participants had lots of questions about how to implement a non-diet approach when their bodies don’t quite work the same way anymore. I worked with Margaret Furtado, a dietitian with a strong belief in the power of mindfulness and extensive experience in the bariatric field, to create our Mindful Eating for Bariatric Surgery Program.
As a weight-neutral program, we do not promote bariatric surgery, but we feel strongly that those who have made that decision (or are considering it), deserve to have the healthiest relationship with food they can!
The majority of the concepts in Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat still apply after bariatric surgery but we needed to adapt some of the information for the physiological changes that result from these major procedures.
We decided to write the Mindful Eating for Bariatric Surgery Companion Workbook and Awareness Journal with changes to the Think, Nourish, and Live sections where needed, and added a new “Adjust” section to each chapter.
Are you a young adult?
Since I had really struggled with eating and body image throughout my teens, college years, and young adulthood, I had a burning desire to introduce young adults to mindful eating and save them the years of unnecessary anguish I had endured.
I created the Mindful Eating Program for Students for college and universities and a training program for potential instructors to make this course available to as many students as possible!
I received an Associate Faculty appointment at Arizona State University where I teach Mindful Eating. I’m thrilled that many of my students plan to enter a health and wellness field and will impact many other lives in the future! Here’s how one of my students described it:
“I have learned things in this course that I will take with me my entire life. This class has not only given me a path towards a happy relationship with food, but also a happy relationship with myself. I feel now I am in charge of my life and food does not control me. Before this course I was a prisoner to food and whenever it appeared, I would latch on and not even enjoy it, but before I knew it, I was regretting it. I feel now I can mindfully enjoy a meal and take in all the nutrients and use the fuel to fuel my life.” – ASU Mindful Eating student
Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat for Students: A Mindful Eating Program to Fuel the Life You Crave has been adapted to address the challenges that young adults commonly face as they take on the responsibility of feeding themselves in our diet-driven, weight-obsessed culture.
While it serves as the “textbook” for our Mindful Eating classes, it is appropriate for any young adult (18 to 25-ish) who wants to establish or repair their relationship with food, physical activity, self-care, and body image.
Mindful eating isn’t about eating less or eating better!
If I say, “mindful eating” when people ask what I do, they usually start to tell me about their weight loss attempts, their efforts to “eat healthy,” or their opinions about what is wrong with the way other people eat. It is difficult for most people to fathom that anything related to eating isn’t automatically about eating less, eating better, or exerting willpower.
It reminds me once again that we live in a culture that tells us we must sculpt our bodies, control our appetites, and comply with a narrow definition of beauty and health. They confuse “mindful eating” with mind-full eating!
I explain that for me (though I know this is not true of all mindful eating advocates), it is about rethinking, and when needed, healing one’s relationship with food.
We have a relationship with food?
Yes, and when that relationship vacillates between being in control then out of control, it causes a great deal of distress. Most people don’t realize there is a third option: Being in charge.
Being in control is about exercising restraint, willpower, and resistance in order to follow a predetermined set of rules for each situation. This requires a great deal of mental and emotional effort, so it is rarely sustainable, resulting in loss of control.
Being in charge is about claiming leadership and responsibility for your choices. In a way, it is more challenging that following the rules of a diet because being in charge requires conscious decision-making: You pause to assess the situation and choose the most appropriate action for you in the present moment. For example, whenever you feel like eating, pause to notice your physical sensations, thoughts, and feelings, then choose what you’ll do next: Eat, redirect your attention, or meet an underlying need.
Mindful eating is a more flexible, sustainable, inside-out approach that makes it possible to eat what you love while keeping your well-being in mind.
A radical, (un)common-sense message
A few years after I started teaching non-diet workshops, I was invited to speak at a medical conference. I quickly discovered that speaking was an effective way to introduce people to this radically different way of thinking about food.
Over the next decade, I gave well over 500 presentations to community and healthcare audiences and earned the Certified Speaking Professional (CSP) designation from the National Speakers Association.
In addition to mindful eating keynotes, workshops, and experientials, I have a passion for sharing my new talk with health professionals called, “From Weight to Well-being: Shifting from Weight-centered to Weight-inclusive Care.” Here’s one of the great comments I’ve received:
“This deep dive into the actual scientific data behind weight and outcomes is a mind-altering paradigm shift that all physicians should understand. With passion and clarity, Dr. May offers us a new path through the jungle of judgment and emotions that cloud our medical attitudes toward weight, leading to unrealistic interventions. Rational and honest, her statistics and caring approach pave the way for new thoughtful partnerships with our patients.” – Sandra Miller MD; Faculty Emeritus, University of Arizona Family Medicine Residency; Clinical Assistant Professor, University of Arizona College of Medicine
If you know an audience who needs to hear this message, please contact me!
“Train the trainer” helps reach people where ever they are
On numerous occasions, health and wellness professionals approached me after a talk, saying, “This just makes SO much sense! How can I learn to teach these workshops?” This planted a seed: Although I couldn’t reach everyone who could be helped with mindful eating, I can teach others to reach and make a difference in their own circle of influence!
In 2006, we held our first training, a 3-day weekend intensive in Phoenix. The feedback told me we were on to something and affirmed that the Mindful Eating Cycle was a simple and useful tool for transferring these complicated concepts to others. We did another intensive training six months later, and I loved every minute of it (planting another seed for offering retreats in the future). But there were two problems: It was expensive for us and our participants, and the short format was a bit like drinking from a fire hose!
About that time, I became aware of teleseminars and learned to use the technology so we could offer live trainings by phone. We switched to webinars when that technology became more accessible. We filled class after class, but another issue became apparent: Since our students were busy health professionals living in different time zones around the world, they needed more flexibility.
I hired Sara Sun, still our Project Manager today, who helped me set-up online training (before it was really a “thing” like it is today). This allowed us to offer asynchronous training and add new mindful eating trainings as we developed new programs for specific conditions and audiences. We’ve trained over 700 people, but we need many more to reach everyone who could benefit from mindful eating, especially now, as the world is finally beginning to recognize the futility of dieting.
Could YOU make a bigger difference in the world?
If you are a health and wellness professional who is fed up with old diet and weight focused advice-giving you learned during your education, we would LOVE to help you make the shift! Whether you want to offer group workshops or webinars, coaching, therapy, college courses, yoga classes, or workplace wellness programs, we have a mindful eating training for you!
Curious about whether Am I Hungry? training might be a fit for you? Watch this video packed with mindful eating training information, including, What is mindful eating? Who is mindful eating for? How is Am I Hungry? different?
Changing the way the world thinks about eating… one person at a time
Over the last 20 years, Am I Hungry? has gradually expanded our reach by publishing books and workbooks, adding mindful eating workshops for different audiences, speaking around the world, and training health and wellness professionals.
Although our mission is to change the way the world thinks about eating, that really only happens one person at a time. Therefore, it is no coincidence that as I reflect on the last 20 years, my favorite professional activity is facilitating our Mindful Eating Retreats!
As I shared at the beginning of this series, my journey started with small local workshops. I absolutely loved guiding my participants through the process of rediscovering their natural ability to manage their eating without weighing, measuring, counting, or logging their food! We built on this foundation with mindfulness skills for choosing foods “from the inside-out” and meeting their other needs in more effective ways that eating.
It was never really about the food anyway
Over the years, it became increasingly clear that it It was never really about the food anyway. Participant after participant shared that mindful eating had created space in their life to live the big, vibrant (previously elusive) life they craved. Rather than postponing that life until they could finally just stick to a diet, they were learning how to fully embrace that life NOW!
Mindful Eating Retreats: Like coming home again!
I guess the reason I love our Mindful Eating Retreats so much is that I feel like I have come home again! While working with participants over five days, I have the privilege of observing them transform before my very eyes! It reminds me why I started doing this work and why I love it so much.
I can’t take full credit for the transformation though. There are many other elements that make these retreats so powerful:
- Even if they are a little bit nervous at first, the people who choose to come are ready to change their relationship with food from one that is consuming, confusing, and conflicted to one that is nurturing, nourishing, and supportive of the bigger life they want to lead.
- They have made an investment and carved out the time and space to do this life-changing work to heal this very important relationship that affects them every day of their lives.
- They quickly become connected to others who are on the same journey, so they no longer feel alone.
- They get to work with our other compassionate experts, like therapists and yoga instructors, who offer additional perspectives, skills, and tools to draw on.
- They actually get to experience and practice what it’s like to have balance in their lives – not just in their eating, but in body, mind, heart, and spirit – and build a foundation for recreating that at home.
- And a little time in nature, catching up on sleep, having a massage, and other self-care activities doesn’t hurt either!
As we begin our 21st year, I’ve set an intention to offer more retreats. You can see why when you read some of the amazing things people have said:
Sign up for this retreat if you want a transformational experience in the way you think about food!
Wonderful! Amazing! Life-changing! It is never too late to make positive decisions.
This retreat is a great way to reconnect with yourself and start healing your relationship to yourself while healing your relationship to food.
This retreat is the best gift you can give yourself—and you deserve it!
I don’t know what the future holds, but I believe it will be as exciting as the last 20 years!