How to Become a Mindful Eater with Michelle May, MD

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Tis the season for new year’s resolutions, and for millions of people losing weight will be one of their highest priority goals for the new year. At least for January. Maybe February. The question is, what about March through December? That’s one of the reasons today’s show is focused on How to Become  a Mindful Eater with Michelle May, MD.

How to Become a Mindful Eater with Michelle May, MD

Dr. May explains it this way, mindful eating is eating with intention and attention. Dr. May has spent time studying people who are what I like to refer to as “naturally thin”. Dr. May describes them as people who manage their eating effortlessly. She calls them intuitive eaters. One of the big differences between intuitive eaters and the rest of us is they know they want to enjoy their food and they want to feel good when they’re done eating. They don’t allow themselves to eat so much that they get bloated and uncomfortable. They’re mindful about what and how much they eat.

People say they love food, but we don’t really eat it in a way that shows that we love it. We don’t give it our full attention, we don’t eat it with the intention of feeling good and having a positive relationship. We get so much into the pleasure that we forget that afterward we’re going to feel miserable.  — Dr. Michelle May, MD

As new year’s resolutions start to gain momentum, restrictive eating follows. Restrictive eating is rule-based eating that is usually all about being good or being bad. Should I eat this? Fine, but you better not eat that! Can I eat after 7 pm? Or what about breakfast? These are all questions based on rule-based eating patterns.

This kind of a pattern has been the predominant message over the last several decades, but Dr. May describes how it’s really backfiring. Because restrictive, rule-based eating makes food the enemy. That puts us in conflict with something that is fundamentally essential with our survival, eating.

And there’s another sticking point. Food is also pleasurable. In our abundant food environment, we have ample ability to gain pleasure from eating and connecting with others around food. This then becomes another area where restrictive eating takes its toll. We start to lose our excitement about those rules. How many days can we go without those foods that we loved as a child? Or bypass the fun of eating at a restaurant we used to love. These are inherently pleasurable experiences, that we may struggle restricting from our lives.

Part of mindful eating is not just being mindful of the food as we’re eating it, but also being mindful of our body and how it’s going to feel. — Michelle May, MD

So restrictive, rules-based eating really puts you in conflict with survival and pleasure — things that are both  fundamentally normal and healthy.

This is the formula for why diets don’t work.

How to Become a Mindful Eater with Michelle May – Important Take-aways

The point Dr. May is making is this: we need to get reacquainted with the skills we were born with.

Dr. May describes how she watched her children eat and how they instinctively stopped when they were full. The trick is to teach yourself (or to reteach yourself) how to know what your body is telling you and then to be able to extend those skills to other aspects of your life.

Eating when you’re hungry is a beautiful, pleasurable, enjoyable, purposeful experience. — Michelle May, MD

Learning to listen to your body is not easy, at lest at the beginning. However, it is the very thing that can make us the healthy, vibrant people we’re meant to be. Once we learn the skill of listening to what our body needs and we meet those needs appropriately, then we can be in charge of the food that we eat. This is a much more desirable approach than, for example, using brownies to meet every single need that we have.

Trust me. I’ve been there.

When a craving doesn’t come from hunger, eating will never satisfy it. — Michelle May, MD

When you think about it, eating is really just fuel for living. If you’re spending all your focus on tracking that, then you become like a one-track mind, thinking of food all day long. That begins to crowd out the way you care for yourself in other ways too.

Or if your whole focus is on the rules then you may begin not eating when you’re hungry or practicing deprivation by “being good” when temptations are around. You may begin to look at exercise as punishment for eating poorly or as a ticket to eating more. And that can lead to hating exercise. Soon, you may be so focused on the food, exercise, and the rules around it, that there’s little room for the health you say that you value so much.

Sometimes people spend so much time “getting healthy” that they don’t have any time left for being healthy. — Michelle May, MD

Dr. May tells us how to become a mindful eater and that the more we can create a healthy relationship with food, the more it will begin to take care of itself. That means the next time you find yourself next to a bag of Lays BBQ potato chips, the less likely you are to scarf down the whole bag in one sitting. Things like potato chips begin to lose their power over you when you realize that how you feel after you eat is as important as the pleasure of eating it.

Now the bonus is this: food is just one way that you get pleasure in your life, not the only way.

I’m inspired by watching people blossom as they get rid of this restrictive mentality – this belief that they somehow haven’t found the right diet – and they begin to discover the internal expert that was there all the time. As they free up their energy from that eat/repent/repeat cycle, they can do what they’re really passionate about. They can use the fuel that they consume to live a big, vibrant life. — Michelle May, MD

Featured Content – How to Become a Mindful Eater with Michelle May, MD

Here are some of the highlights of my discussion with Dr. May, where we discuss:

  • How Dr. May struggled with weight in her childhood and how having her own kids helped to overcome that.
  • The reasons why diets don’t work
  • How Dr. May studied “naturally” thin people and now calls them instinctive eaters
  • Understanding when you’re hungry is an important part of becoming a mindful eater
  • Dr. May describes the Eat, Repent, Repeat cycle
  • Why willpower is never effective for weight loss
  • Dr. May’s tips for how to become a mindful eater

This episode includes references to some resources you might find interesting. Here they are:

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That’s it for today’s podcast. As always, thanks so much for joining in the discussion!

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3 Responses to How to Become a Mindful Eater with Michelle May, MD

  1. I really enjoyed this!

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