Mindful Eating Programs and Training

Mindful Eating Programs and Training

Mindful Eating in Diet Culture

Michelle May


One of the challenges with giving up dieting for good is you’re still living in diet culture! Even when you’re loving the freedom and autonomy of making your own decisions with mindful eating, diet culture tells you to restrict, obsess, and feel guilty. From the celebrity before and after photos in the check-out line, the interview about the “latest and greatest” diet plan on the morning “news,” to your friend on social media talking about how much weight they lost, diet messages are everywhere.

Figuring out how to stay focused on mindful eating in our diet-obsessed culture isn’t easy!

It reminds me of an experience I had when I signed up for yoga classes on a cruise ship.

Staying focused when distractions are everywhere

mindful eating in diet cultureI signed up for yoga classes during the four days we were at sea during a cruise to celebrate our 30th anniversary. Who knew I would also gain insight into how to stay focused on mindful eating in diet culture!

During the first class, I discovered that the yoga room had an open doorway from the ship’s gym, so we heard the whir of treadmills and clanging of weights in the background. After noting my distraction, I settled into my practice and took no further notice.

During the second class, I was in a downward facing dog looking at the ocean through the floor-to-ceiling windows when a guy in exercise attire strolled in, headphones on, and began a solo boxing workout at the back of the room, smack in the middle of my view. He watched our yoga class while hopping from one foot to the other, grunting and jabbing the air like Rocky. The teacher seemed puzzled too but continued the class.

During his 30-minute (!) workout, I experienced thoughts and emotions ranging from curious and amused to incredulous and irritated.

Mindfulness has taught me to be just as curious about my own responses as I was about his apparent mindlessness. Eventually, I made this uninvited distraction part of my yoga practice and kept bringing my awareness back to my breath and postures when I noticed my attention had drifted.

Do you feel distracted by diet culture?

It occurred to me that mindful eating in diet culture is very much like practicing yoga while someone boxes in the back of the room!

How to deal with diet cultureWhether we are simply aware of the constant murmur of diet-talk all around us or frequently distracted by it, we have the choice to ignore it and settle back into our mindful eating practice.

With diet-messages are everywhere, it can be challenging to cultivate your attention and maintain your intention to make healing your relationship with food the priority over temporarily losing a few pounds.

Whether it’s your girlfriend’s latest fad diet, your doctor’s admonishment to lose weight, or even our beloved Oprah touting Weight Watchers, now WW (as though it’s not really a diet since you can eat whatever you want as long as you don’t exceed your allotted points), the pull toward the familiar though ineffective old approach is alluring.

And it’s become even more challenging to recognize these diet messages! They are often disguised using words like “healthy,” “anti-inflammatory,” or “natural.”

Tips to stay focused on mindful eating in diet culture

Let’s explore some ways to keep bringing your focus back to building a healthy relationship with food – even when disordered eating has become so common, it seems normal.

1) Take a few deep breaths.

The simple grounding strategy of taking a few conscious breaths will help calm your nervous system and bring you back to the present moment. When you are calm, you are more able to decide where to focus your attention.

2) Use self-compassion.

It is understandable that you would initially feel drawn toward diet-culture since they make it sound easy, fast, new, ground-breaking, or miraculous. Remember, those are the words that marketers use to attract customers—but the words don’t have to be proven or true. Remember all the times your diet started out easy but got harder to maintain over time? Advertisers often say whatever it takes to get your attention and your money!

3) Be compassionate toward others.

Your co-workers enthusiasm about their latest program reminds me of my own each time I experienced initial “success” (though it never lasted). While maybe that is the answer for them, I know that weighing, measuring, counting, and logging is not the answer for me anymore!

4) Do a reality check.

There are two questions to ask yourself:

1. Does this sound too good to be true? If so, then it probably is!*

2. Can I do this every day for the rest of my life? If not, then don’t bother doing it for a day! As soon as you stop, you’ll be right back where you started—or even worse off!

* At first, mindful eating might sound too good to be true too! Eat what you love? How can that possibly work?

Admittedly, it sounds simple, but it isn’t always easy. Like most worthwhile changes, it’s a process! (Read How Long Does It Take to Learn to Eat Mindfully?)

5) Choose your focus.

Imagine what would happen if you took a fraction of the time, energy, attention, and money that you would have spent on that new diet (whether they call themselves a diet or not!), and instead invested it in becoming the expert in yourself?

6) Take supportive action.

What is one small step you could take toward mindful self-care when you feel frustrated or tempted by all the diet-hype? Here are three simple ideas; you’ll find many more in Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat.

Shift your focus from diet-culture to mindful eating.

Mindful eating, like yoga, is teaching me to be present and nonjudgmental. I am repeatedly amazed at what shows up when I simply pause to notice.

Thankfully for our final yoga class, our yoga instructor moved us outside on the grassy upper deck of the ship. I was in a downward facing dog looking at the ocean through the railing as we pulled away from the French Riviera when I saw a beautiful rainbow.

This mindful eating journey offers many often unexpected gifts when we are patient!

This article is updated from a previous version.

If you enjoyed this article, here are three more to help you:

How Long Does It Take to Learn to Eat Mindfully?

How to Turn Mindful Eating Into a Diet

A Non-Diet, Weight-Neutral, Mindfulness-Based Approach to Optimal Well-Being

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