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You are NOT powerless over food!

By Michelle May, M.D.

Do you feel like you are powerless over food?

You’re not alone! Many people feel powerless about their eating because they have become stuck in habitual, mindless patterns because they are eating in response to their triggers (Check out this post for a list of common triggers identified by my readers. Can you relate to any of these?)

Many people who feel powerless over food say they’ve “tried everything” to get back in control, but are often left feeling out of control. The truth is, going on a diet doesn’t address the habits that are driving the behaviors, and may make them worse!

You see, it is not about controlling your eating; it is about being in charge of your decisions! This subtle but meaningful difference is explained in this article.

Your habits depend on your mindlessness.

habits depend on your mindlessnessWhen you are not aware of your patterns, your habits thrive. In other words, your habits depend on your mindlessness.

This simple but profound statement explains why mindful eating is such a powerful approach for addressing your triggers for overeating. Think about it this way: When you are mindless, you are unable to make conscious decisions. Therefore, your brain has no choice but to replay the past – since it already knows how to do that.

Mindfulness makes it possible for you to notice your physical sensations, thoughts, and feelings so you can make connections between your cravings and your feelings. In other words, what triggered your desire to eat right now or your craving for this particular food?

You’re not powerless over food when you are mindful!

Chances are, if you have one trigger, you have dozens! So before we talk about specific strategies for dealing with specific triggers, we need to have an overarching strategy that will help you handle just about anything that comes up.

Learn more about our Online Mindful Eating Classes.

FEAST instead of eat!

Let’s take a look at the FEAST strategy (Focus, Explore, Accept, Strategize, Take Action) from our Am I Hungry? Mindful Eating Programs and Chapter 3 of Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat:

Focus: Think about the statement, your habits depend on your mindlessness. The corollary is that your awareness is the first step to making a change. When you are experiencing cravings and feel powerless over food, pause, breathe, and notice what is happening in the present moment. This pause allows you to respond instead of reacting mindlessly (re-acting out the past).

Explore: Get curious! What is the trigger? Why is this situation, person, place, or feeling a trigger for eating?

Accept: What you resist persists! Denying your feelings, avoiding difficult situations, pushing things away, or stuffing them down with food works like a spring: it takes a lot of energy to hold it all down and it will pop back up, often when you least expect it. Accept things as they are without judgment. This is not always easy, but it is very effective.

Strategize: You are not powerless over food; you are in charge of how you respond. When you have cravings to overeat, choose how you’ll respond, knowing that eating anyway is always an option. For now, consider what else could you do until you’re physically hungry. What could you do to meet this need more effectively than eating? What could you do to prevent this particular trigger in the future?

Take Action: Take a small step—even a micromovement—in the direction you want to go. You are only powerless over food if you choose to remain mindless. Every time you choose to become mindful, you weaken your habits and begin to form new more effective patterns.

With practice, it will become more natural to choose your response instead of continuing to react mindlessly.

Enjoyed this article? Here are three more to help you:

What is the difference between emotional eating and binge eating?

Should I eat breakfast if I’m not hungry?

Is fear keeping you stuck on the diet tightrope?

This post has been updated from a previously published version.

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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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