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Why You Shouldn’t Use Mindful Eating to Lose Weight

Why You Shouldn’t Use Mindful Eating to Lose Weight

“Mindful eating is not about weight loss. It’s not about body size. It’s all about discovering who I truly am. What are my core values? What are my real needs as a human being?”

The Center for Mindful Eating is celebrating its second annual Mindful Eating Day this Thursday, January 26. To celebrate, the center is running free webinars featuring interviews with international mindful eating experts. There’s also a Facebook group featuring daily tips and exercises.

Mindful eating is certainly on trend, and of course, the diet/weight loss industry has jumped on the bandwagon – a quick Google search of “mindful eating” and “weight loss” gives you almost 400K hits. There’s even a Mindfulness Diet!

I, too, used to believe that mindful eating could be used for weight loss. I mean, mindful eating helps you to slow down your eating, which in turn should help you eat less, right? In fact, my Mindful Eating Day blog post last year cited a systematic review that found that in 13 of 19 studies, people who used mindful eating while trying to lose weight did lose weight, but it was unclear whether they lost weight because of mindful eating or because of something else.

The truth is, if you are entering the practice of mindful eating with the intention of weight loss, then you are probably missing the point.

If you're practicing #MindfulEating with the intention to lose weight, you're missing the point. Click To Tweet

What is Mindful Eating?

The Center for Mindful Eating defines mindful eating as:

  • Allowing yourself to become aware of the positive and nurturing opportunities that are available through food selection and preparation by respecting your own inner wisdom.
  • Using all your senses in choosing to eat food that is both satisfying to you and nourishing to your body.
  • Acknowledging responses to food (likes, dislikes or neutral) without judgment.
  • Becoming aware of physical hunger and satiety cues to guide your decisions to begin and end eating.

What’s Wrong with Wanting to Lose Weight with Mindful Eating?

For some people, mindful eating can lead to weight loss, if, for example, they become more in tune with their hunger/satiety cues or start to choose foods that are satisfying and nourishing, not just whatever’s there. Others will find that mindful eating leads to weight gain, if, for example, they have been restricting their eating and finally give themselves permission to honour their hunger, and eat and enjoy all foods. For even more others, mindful eating doesn’t change weight, or has nothing to do with weight. The point is, weight loss is not a guaranteed outcome of mindful eating (or any type of eating, for that matter.)

The problem with going into the practice of mindful eating with the intention to lose weight is that you are arriving with an expectation, a judgment.

Instead of “allowing yourself to become aware of the positive and nurturing opportunities that are available through food selection and preparation by respecting your own inner wisdom,” you are distracted by society’s pressures to use food to change your body size and shape.

Instead of “using all your senses in choosing to eat food that is both satisfying to you and nourishing to your body,” you use calorie counts, “suggested serving sizes” and other arbitrary judgments like “natural”, “clean” or “sugar-free” to help you decide what to eat.

Instead of “acknowledging responses to food (likes, dislikes or neutral) without judgment,” you punish yourself for liking food that’s “bad” (I mean, what kind of monster likes chocolate? 😉) while choking down swampy bottles of kale and activated charcoal juice because it’s “good for you”.

Instead of “becoming aware of physical hunger and satiety cues to guide your decisions to begin and end eating,” you tell yourself that you can’t eat after 7 PM, or that you can’t have seconds because it will “push you over your calories”. Then, you find yourself waking up and eating in the middle of the night because you were actually starving.

In short, you’re cheating yourself from the full experience of mindful eating, and at the end of the day, you might not lose weight anyway.

Wanting to lose weight cheats you from the full experience of #mindfuleating. Click To Tweet

If I Can’t Lose Weight, Then What’s the Point?

There’s so much more to food and eating than what it does (if anything) to our weight. If you’re tired of “yo-yo dieting” or the “diet-binge cycle”, and ready to open yourself up to changing how you think and feel about food, eating, your body and your health, then mindful eating may be a good first step.

Mindful eating is about being present and paying attention to what the experience of procuring, preparing and eating food is really like, instead of hanging on to the false expectations that have been set by the weight loss industry and our diet culture.

If you’re interested in exploring mindful eating, I did share some tips in my post last year; better yet, I suggest visiting The Center for Mindful Eating website. In addition to their free webinars for Mindful Eating Day, they have lots of resources and webinars coming up for you to sink your teeth into.

6 Comments

  • Cathy on Jan 27, 2017 Reply

    Fantastic article. I like to describe weight loss as a potential side effect of mindful eating, not the main goal. There’s so much more to gain than a slimmer figure. But given the reality of the world we live in, with the tremendous pressure to look thin, I think health at every size is a mentality that’s easier said than embraced. I think there’s a lot of work to do in this area and a lot of exciting opportunities for RDs to lead the way!

    • Vincci Tsui on Jan 27, 2017 Reply

      Thank you, Cathy! I agree, this is an exciting area of work to be in!

  • Sandy on Jan 26, 2017 Reply

    This is so true. It’s impossible to be “mindful” when you have 84,000 priorities going at one time.

    • Vincci Tsui on Jan 26, 2017 Reply

      Thank you for your comment, Sandy!

  • Bracha on Jan 25, 2017 Reply

    Interesting view here Vincci. I think if someone fully embraces the process of mindful eating and stops counting calories and serving sizes and accepts food for what it provides rather than demonizing it, mindful eating can be used as a tool for weight loss, as it puts you more in tune with your body’s needs (which may be less than what you’re currently providing). I do agree that it’s a good way to get off the yo-yo dieting trend and incredibly important for gaining body acceptance, but for many people it can be very helpful for weight loss too.

    • Vincci Tsui on Jan 25, 2017 Reply

      Thanks for your feedback, Bracha. I’m definitely not saying that mindful eating doesn’t cause weight loss, because it can, but it’s when you expect it as an outcome that it distracts from fully enjoying the experience.

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