As we celebrate the 23rd anniversary of Am I Hungry?, I am celebrating as many years of freedom from my eat-repent-repeat cycle. I am grateful to mindful eating for putting an end to yo-yo dieting for me – and for so many of the people we work with! However, I am aware as I say that, it sounds a bit vague and abstract. So let me give you a specific example of how mindful eating helps end yo-yo dieting.
How Mindful Eating Helps
During an anniversary trip to Italy, my husband and I spent two days in Bologna where we had scheduled a pasta-making class.
On the first day, we had climbed several of the towers Bologna is famous for and sat down for a glass of wine after a long day of sightseeing. Suddenly, food appeared! The waiter explained, “These are ‘appertivos’ to tide you over and help prevent intoxication when you have a drink in the afternoon.” Apparently, appertivos are the Italian equivalent of happy hour!
Once again, I was grateful for my ability to eat fearlessly and mindfully. In my old yo-yo diet days, having food like this show up unexpectedly would have derailed me. I could have easily gone from feeling in control to being out of control.
Instead, I was in charge.
You see, when I was dieting, I carefully budgeted my food and planned for special meals. Unexpected opportunities to eat, especially delicious, free food, could have triggered the “what-the-hell” phase of my eat-repent-repeat cycle.
That would have been followed by guilt and paying penance with restriction and exercise. But not anymore! Instead, I simply make a series of conscious decision about eating. In other words, I am in charge.
Mindful eating is not just about the appearance, taste, and aromas of food. To me, it encompasses the entire Mindful Eating Cycle:
- Why? Why do I want to eat?
- When? When do I want to eat?
- What? What do I eat?
- How? How do I eat?
- How Much? How much do I eat?
- Where? Where do I invest my energy?
With awareness of each of these decisions in my Eating Cycle and a set of skills for making those decisions, I have the ability to respond instead of react. In other words, I now have response-ability, rather than re-acting and continually playing out old patterns. (Download chapter 1 of Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat for more detail about the Mindful Eating Cycle.)
Six Decisions in Mindful Eating
Let me use the appertivos above as an example of how I apply these six mindful eating decisions.
Why do I eat?
Throughout this trip (and in the more ordinary aspects of my life), I am conscious about eating as an experience, while continuing to meet my nutritional and fuel needs. In other words, I eat with the intention of balancing eating for enjoyment with eating for nourishment.
When do I want to eat?
A quick body-mind-heart scan (see chapter 2 of Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat) revealed I was not only tired, but I was somewhat hungry (a “3” for those of you who use our Hunger and Fullness Scale). I needed to eat!
What do I eat?
I noticed I was definitely in the mood for savory flavors and, as had been the case throughout the trip, I was also keenly interested in trying traditional Italian foods. I was surprised to see potato chips and chips and salsa on the appertivo platter and decided they just weren’t going to cut it.
There was no angst, guilt, or even thinking, “Oh well, it is a special occasion!” or “It’s free; I don’t want to be rude!” I decided to skip these American “delicacies” and focused on the bruschetta and olives. It wasn’t about the calories or carbs, or good vs. bad foods. It was just food. For me, the quality of the food could either enhance or detract from my experience, but otherwise had no power over me. It was simply about consciously choosing what I would find most satisfying.
And those olives definitely enhanced the experience!
How do I eat?
We enjoyed relaxing at the outdoor cafe, sampling the appertivos and wine, and discussing our day. We agreed that we wanted more of these experiences in our busy lives when we returned home.
And yes, we savored the appearance, taste, and aromas of the food, and especially the privilege of eating at an outdoor cafe in Italy together for our anniversary!
Of course, Europeans generally eat much later in the evening, so when in Rome… Well actually, we were in Bologna, but we had dinner reservations in a couple of hours so eating a little now was definitely a good idea.
At the same time though, appetizers are actually de-appetizers, and I didn’t want to overdo it and “ruin my dinner” (as my mother used to say). I ate until I felt content, but not overly full, then we enjoyed an amazing dinner later.
Where do I invest my energy?
Refreshed after our wine and appertivos, we walked around the city and discovered they were setting up for a film festival in the middle of Piazza Maggiore. After dinner, we returned to watch “Raging Bull” in Italian (with English subtitles) under the stars with a mostly Italian audience. It was a memorable, delicious experience!
No more yo-yo dieting for me!
Learning to eat mindfully has given me the flexibility to eat what I love in any situation without worrying about blowing it, or ruining the experience by overeating or feeling guilty.
More important, by breaking free of yo-yo dieting, I have more space in my life for living.
This article has been updated from a previously published version.
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