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How Mindful Eating Helps End Yo-yo Dieting

By Michelle May, M.D.

IMG_0572During our anniversary trip to Italy, my husband and I 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.

How Mindful Eating Helps

In my old yoyo diet days, having food like this show up unexpectedly would have derailed me. I could have easily gone from in control to out of control.

Instead, I was 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? When? What? How? How Much? and Where?

With awareness of each of these decisions in my eating cycle, I can respond instead of react. I 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 Steps 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 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 eat? A quick mind-body scan (see chapter 2 of Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat) revealed that I was not only tired, but I was somewhat hungry (a “3” for those of you who use our Hunger and Fullness Scale).

What do I eat? I noticed that I was definitely hungry for savory flavors and, as had been the case throughout the trip, I was also keenly interested in trying traditional favorites. Somehow potato chips and chips and salsa weren’t going to cut it. There was no angst, guilt, or even thinking, “Oh well, it is a special occasion!” It wasn’t about the calories, or good vs. bad. It was just food. 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.

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!

ItalyBologna13.1-PiazzaMaggiore-RagingBullHow much do I eat? 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).

Where do I invest my energy? Refreshed after our wine and appertivos, we walked around again and discovered that they had a film festival going on in the middle of Piazza Maggiore. Later after dinner, we returned to watch “Raging Bull” in Italian with English subtitles under the stars.

Eat Mindfully, Live Vibrantly

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 importantly, by breaking free of yoyo dieting, I have more space in my life for living.



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.

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