Mind Full Eating Is Not Mindful Eating

By Michelle May, M.D.

Mindful Eating vs Mind FULL EatingThe New York Times recently published a well-written and very interesting piece called Losing It in the Anti-Diet Age that explores the history of dieting (particularly Weight Watchers) and the complexity of our relationship with food and our bodies.

While I was frustrated by the author’s ambivalence about going back to dieting despite her personal experience and compelling research for the piece, I understand it. And of course, we are all familiar with Oprah’s long struggle with yo-yo dieting, recounted for this article. Having been in that cycle myself and having worked with so many people who were caught in a similar trap, I’ve only felt compassion for her.

That is until she decided to invest in and actively promote the diet (that is what it is, no matter what kind of a spin they try to put on it) that began my two decade-long struggle with my eat-repent-repeat cycle.

I respect her right to do what she wants and I believe her intentions are good but I worry a lot about all the people who may be lured into their own eat-repent-repeat cycles, not realizing there is another way.

However, it is her description mindful eating that is causing me to speak up. Of Weight Watchers, Oprah said, “It’s a mechanism to keep myself on track that brings level of consciousness and awareness to my eating. It actually is, for me, mindful eating, because the points are so ingrained now.”

With all due respect, counting points is mind full eating, not mindful eating!

Is your mind full?

I remember all too well the checking, weighing, counting, logging, and planning required to stay within the allowed points and, to use Oprah’s phrase, “keep myself on track.” It occupied a tremendous amount of energy, time, and attention, and often distracted me from enjoying my food – and more important, my life!

Eventually, the effort would wear on me. When I made a mistake, I felt guilty (and at the same time free!). Breaking the rules often led to overeating and sometimes bingeing. I’d eventually repent… and on it went.

Either way, my mind was full of thoughts of food. At that time, I didn’t know about mindfulness – much less the true freedom it would give me to eat what I love, love what I eat, and use my energy to live my life fully.

Or are you mindful?

Mindfulness is certainly consciousness and awareness; the intention is to notice whatever is present right now – not to follow an external set of rules (even if those rules have been internalized).

If you’ve read any of the books in the Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat book series, I’ve described the difference between mind full eating and mindful eating as the difference between being “in control” and “in charge.”

Being in control is about mustering up and maintaining willpower. When your willpower runs low, you may find yourself out of control.

Being in charge is conscious decision-making. There is no predetermined way to respond, so in the present moment, you pause to assess the situation and decide what the most appropriate action is. Rather than following a list of rules, whenever you feel like eating, you become aware of your physical sensations, thoughts, and feelings, then choose what you’ll do next. It is a much more flexible approach that makes it possible to eat what you love while keeping your well-being in mind.

(Do you like this graphic? Download the side-by-side comparison of the differences between mindful eating and Restrictive Eating.)

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