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“Mindful eating is too hard!” and Other Myths about Mindful Eating

By Michelle May, M.D.

I just returned home from five days guiding a mindful eating/vibrant living retreat with 20 people who came to develop a healthier, happier relationship with food. While I was out of town, the activity “Love What You Eat” from our Free Treat e-book give-away was published on a popular diet website. It generated some interesting comments, including skepticism and “I will NOT fantasize about fruit like it is a sexual object.

MindfulEatingAdmittedly, mindful eating is a big leap from counting calories. I don’t know about “sexual” but after a mindful eating lunch, one retreat participant said that eating this way felt “sensual.” The definition of sensuous is to use all of one’s senses, so that is a great way to describe mindful eating.

Other comments uncovered a number of other myths about mindful eating.

Mindful eating is too hard

Mindfulness is simply placing your full focus on the present moment, and that can be challenging. It is EASY to eat a piece of fruit, a candy bar, or an entire bag of potato chips without thinking about it at all – we’ve done that 1000’s of times before. (And look where it has gotten us!) Mindful eating is
just a new skill so every bite is an opportunity to practice.

Mindful eating takes too long

It’s challenging to slow down during a busy day to really notice what we are consuming, much less how we are consuming it and how our body is responding to it. However, mindful eating doesn’t have to take a long time to be effective. You can mindfully consume a piece of fruit or a piece of chocolate in just a few minutes – and turn that few minutes into a mini-meditation that will nourish your body and your soul!

Which brings me to the next myth…

Mindful eating is woo woo

In contrast to hypertasking and going through the motions, it does feel a bit spiritual to focus on just one thing at a time. And while mindfulness has ancient roots, it is imminently practical in our modern, hurried, overwhelming environment. Unlike the rare acts of meditating, going to a place of worship, or reading spiritual works, everyone eats. Bringing mindfulness to the table is a useful way to tap into the calming effects of the present moment.AmIHungryKidEatingMindfully

When you watch a toddler eat (or do anything) you can see that mindfulness is human nature. They touch, smell, manipulate, taste, and explore their food while they experiment with the act of eating. When you bring “beginner’s mind” to each experience, eating becomes a multisensory adventure that is so much more satisfying and enjoyable.

Mindful eating is just another fad

Unfortunately, the phrase “mindful eating” is being misused by some people as a way to talk about restricting food intake. THAT is a fad – and it is not what mindful eating is all about.

Mindful eating seems “mechanical”

In the Free Treat “Love What You Eat” activity, I’ve broken the process of mindful eating into discrete steps. Unfortunately when you read it without actually bothering to try it, it can sound mechanical. But each step of this exercise has a purpose; with practice, it becomes more natural and less awkward.

Going through this exercise once intentionally (or even reading it) may help you bring even a little more awareness to the next meal you eat. You might be surprised at how that changes your experience.

Mindful eating is uncomfortable

For some people, mindful eating can be an uncomfortable experience at first. Slowing down heightens your senses, including awareness about what you are thinking and feeling. If you become aware that you are feeling uncomfortable or anxious, pause and take a couple of deep breaths. You may find that practicing for just one or two bites during each meal makes mindful eating easier to adjust to.

Mindful eating is “just” eating with awareness

Many people teach mindful eating as simply “eating slowly, without distraction.” That’s certainly an important part of it, but I believe that mindful eating encompasses the entire process of eating: awareness of body cues and non-hunger triggers for eating, selection of food for enjoyment and nourishment, eating for optimal satisfaction and satiety, and using the fuel you’ve consumed to live the vibrant life you crave. (That is the Mindful Eating Cycle from chapter 1 of Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat.)

You can only change what you are aware of. That is what makes mindful eating such a powerful tool for developing a healthier, happier relationship with food.

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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.

One Comment

  1. kathy says:

    While not wanting to get too “spiritual” and “woo woo”, the beginner’s mind reminds me of a wise man who said we should “become like little children”. Funny, lots of things seem to work out better that way – when I can remember to be amazed.

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