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How to Save a Life

By Michelle May, M.D.

Michelle May, M.D.

I practiced Family Medicine in a suburb of Phoenix, Arizona for 16 years. During the last seven years of my practice, I also developed the Am I Hungry?® workshops and wrote my first book in my “free time.” When I finally realized that I had worked my way into two fulltime jobs (three if you count raising a family), I knew I needed to pick a lane. By then, it had become clear to me that I was on this earth to use my personal and professional experiences to help people resolve their struggles with food so they could live a bigger life. Much to my parents’ dismay, I decided to leave the practice of medicine to devote my work to that calling.

The only difficult part of my decision was leaving many long term relationships with my patients behind. I’ve always felt that the greatest privilege of being a physician is being an “insider” and sharing in the lives of the people I cared for. During the month leading up to my departure, I frequently felt like I was attending my own funeral: there were flowers, cards, and sad visitors paying their last respects. It was as difficult as I anticipated.

Nearly eight years later…

life ringThe day before Mother’s Day, we went to the outlet mall to pick up a few things for our hiking trip in Ireland. I was looking at sunglasses when suddenly I heard, “Dr. May!” in a voice I immediately recognized as one of those people I cared for—and about.

She immediately told everyone standing in line at her counter that I had saved her life.

Years before, she had come to my office depressed and suicidal; I had never seen her like that. To make a long story short, I helped her find her way back to her husband, two young children, and the life that she had loved. There was no CPR involved, but I know that had she not come in that day, she probably wouldn’t be standing in front of me.

Now, looking very much alive, she came from behind the counter, threw her arms around me and kissed both of my cheeks while her customers and my husband looked on. I hugged her back and asked about her children, now both in college, and she asked about mine, also both in college. As I walked away, I again heard her tell everyone within ear shot that I had saved her life. It brings tears to my eyes just writing about it now.

On the way home, my husband and I talked about how different my work is now. I understand why people usually look surprised when I say, “I am a retired family physician who now helps people heal their relationship with food.” (Though I prefer to think that it’s because I look too young to be retired!)

Virtual Hugs

Later that afternoon, I checked our Am I Hungry? Facebook page and found the following three posts:

Emilie (a participant in last summer’s Am I Hungry? Eat Mindfully, Live Vibrantly Retreat ):

You once told me I was hanging on, “white knuckling it” at every meal. It was taking up so much time and energy that I’m now using to ride my bike, grow my business, work out with my trainer, spend time with my husband, read, vacation and generally live a bigger life. I am in great shape, my weight is stable, and I just eat food. I don’t count weight measure or value food. It’s a much better life.

Marietta:

Yep! Realizing the freedom of truly understanding that you are “allowed” to eat what you want when you want breaks this self-punitive cycle and cravings lose their power. The natural balance you were born with returns.

Monica:

What a relief to stop the roller coaster ride of dieting. 40 years of pure up and down hell. Control, lose control, beat yourself up, give up, try again, do it all over again. Now I eat when I’m hungry and stop when I am satisfied. Much less about food and much, much, much more about feelings. And a lot about loving myself.

I then checked my email and found a link to this post in our Am I Hungry? Participant Forum:

Cathy:

As a lifelong overeater and yo-yo dieter, I’m now 6 months into the healing process of mindful eating and living.

Dr May spoke at my workplace and I felt she was speaking directly to me. It was so amazing to realize that I wasn’t the only one! Not only did she understand my life with food, she knew how to help me find sanity and peace.

I joined the Am I Hungry? Mindful Eating program at work. Our facilitator was so positive and encouraging; I learned ALOT about nutrition and exercise but more about myself.

I know that I will stumble along the way but I am so hopeful. I feel calm. I’ve actually picked up chocolate in the candy aisle, thought about it and decided I didn’t WANT it and put it back! A miracle. I savor the sweets I do eat and don’t punish myself for eating “bad” foods. I’ve lost some weight and my BMI and blood pressure are improving. I move easier and almost DON’T hate the elliptical at the Y anymore.

THANK YOU, Dr. May! You’ve literally given me a way back to a healthier, more satisfying life when I thought none existed. Your work is invaluable!

Yes, my work is very different now. But in a way, I’m still saving lives.

If you have a story to share, I’d love to hear it. Please post in the comments section, on Facebook or send us an email!

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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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