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How do the Dietary Guidelines 2010 fit with mindful eating?

By Michelle May, M.D.

2010 dietary guidelinesOn January 31, 2011, the USDA and HHS held a press conference, “Dietary Guidelines to Help Americans Make Healthier Food Choices and Confront Obesity Epidemic” to announce the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010. As I watched the press conference, I was disappointed but not surprised about the emphasis on calorie counting.

The concern about obesity is obviously driving the calorie focus, yet Secretary Thomas Vilsak’s comments about his own personal eating habits underscore the problem with this approach. Like most Americans, he admitted that, “I had never read the Dietary Guidelines until I got this job.” He went on to say that he and his wife are now following the Guidelines. “We have our little sheet everyday. We record what we eat. And we are very, very concerned about calories in and calories out.”

If that is what is required to eat healthier, America is in serious trouble.

150 Years of Diet Fads. Calorie Counting is no different.

According to an article on MSNBC about the history of dieting, we have been trying various versions of this restrictive, time and energy consuming approach for 150 years. Where has it gotten us? Wouldn’t this be the definition of insanity? Yet it is sanctioned by our government.

There is no disagreement that a calorie imbalance exists and that the cause of this imbalance is multifactorial.To sum it up from page 55 of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010:

Individuals and families make choices every day about what they will eat and drink and how physically active they will be. Today, Americans must make these choices within the context of an environment that promotes overconsumption of calories and discourages physical activity. This environment and the individual choices made within it have contributed to dramatic increases in the rates of overweight and obesity.

To address these problems, the DGA suggests a Social-Ecological Model (see page 56). This framework and the recommendations are fine for guiding environmental changes. However, it does not address how individuals make decisions about eating from moment to moment. As a result, the Dietary Guidelines are full of recommendations about what to do. As for the how, get out your “little sheets” and start recording.

You shouldn’t have to be an accountant to decide what to eat and how to move.

As long as the DGA and other diets turn eating into a math problem to be solved, Americans will continue to struggle. The paradigm is wrong because the majority of the time, people overeat not because they don’t know but because they don’t notice.

Mindful Eating requires a paradigm shift

This paradigm shift away from counting and toward mindful eating won’t come easy. I wrote about why previously so I won’t go into it again now, but suffice it to say, while change may not be easy, it is essential. (Remember the definition of insanity.)

The Mindful Eating Cycle provides the missing structure to help individuals become aware of why, when, what, how, and how much they are eating and moving. Mindful eating is not dependent on the environment, the available options, or a list of rules (sorry, “guidelines”). It simply requires the individual to become aware of their physical sensations of hunger and fullness, their triggers for eating other than hunger, the effects that eating certain types and amounts of foods have on their body, how it feels to move, and other information that is available to them at all times. No labels, calories on menus, or calculators needed.

While some in the field of intuitive eating might feel that any guidelines about nutrition conflict with the concept of eating intuitively, I believe there is room for solid, evidenced-based nutrition advice. However, until this critical element of mindful eating is addressed, documents like the Dietary Guidelines will remain just that: guidelines.

For individuals to integrate “healthy eating patterns” (as the DGA refers to them) into their lives, their decisions must be made from the inside out. Mindful eating provides that critical paradigm shift.

The question is not if but when?



About the author

Michelle May, M.D. is a recovered yo-yo dieter and the founder of the Am I Hungry?® Mindful Eating Programs and Training. She is the award-winning author of Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat: A Mindful Eating Program to Break Your Eat-Repent-Repeat Cycle , winner of seven publishing awards. She is also the author of Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat with Diabetes, Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat for Binge Eating, and Am I Hungry? Mindful Eating for Bariatric Surgery. Michelle shares her compelling message and constructive keynotes with audiences around the country, offers workplace wellness programs, and has trained and licensed hundreds of health professionals to facilitate Am I Hungry?® Mindful Eating Programs worldwide. She has been featured on Dr. Oz, the Discovery Health Channel, and Oprah Radio, and quoted in Diabetic Living, Fitness, Health, Huffington Post, Parents, Self, USA Weekend, US News & World Report, WebMD and many others. Her personal success story was published in Chicken Soup for the Dieter's Soul. Michelle cherishes her relationships with her husband, Owen and grown children, Tyler and Elyse. She regularly enjoys practicing yoga and hiking near her home in Phoenix, Arizona. She and Owen, a professional chef, share a passion for gourmet and healthful cooking, wine tasting, photography, and traveling.

One Comment

  1. I love this “You shouldn’t have to be an accountant to decide what to eat and how to move” …hear, hear!

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