Book Excerpt: Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat: How to Break the Eat-Repent-Repeat Cycle by Michelle May, M.D.

Love What You Eat: Mindful Eating

By Michelle May, M.D.

This excerpt is from Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat: How to Break the Eat-Repent-Repeat Cycle by Michelle May, M.D., a recovered yoyo dieter and the founder of the Am I Hungry? Mindful Eating Program ( Download the first chapter Eat What You Love

Do you love food but eat as though it’s just another task to get through? Do you eat quickly, barely tasting what you’re eating? Do you eat too fast to notice how full you’re getting? Do you eat while you’re watching TV, reading the newspaper, driving, or working? How often do you feel stuffed when you’re finished eating? Do you ever finish something and wish you could have just one more bite? Have you ever eaten something and not even remembered it?

These are all signs of unconscious eating.

Mindful eating—that is, eating with intention and attention—is a more satisfying, memorable, multi-sensory experience.

Eat with intention. Be purposeful when you eat.
• Eat when you’re physically hungry.
• Eat to meet your body’s needs for nourishment and enjoyment.
• Eat with the intention of feeling better when you’ve done than you did when you started.

Eat with attention. Devote your full attention to eating.
• Eliminate or minimize distractions.
• Tune into the ambiance, flavors, smells, temperature, and texture of the food.
• Listen to your body’s cues of hunger and fullness.

When you eat with the intention of caring for yourself, you’ll feel content, not deprived. When you pay attention, you’ll enjoy eating more while eating less.

Guide to Mindful Eating

During our Am I Hungry? Mindful Eating Workshops we practice eating with intention and attention by going out to dinner together or having a mindful eating potluck. You too can experience mindful eating by practicing these steps, either by yourself or with a friend over dinner.

Check in with yourself several times a day. Begin eating when you feel significantly hungry, but try not to wait until you’re famished. One of the keys to conscious eating is to keep your body adequately fed to decrease the risk of overeating.

Set your intention. Decide how full you want to be when you are done eating. If you don’t have a plan, you’re more likely to eat more than you want or need.

Choose food that will satisfy both your body and your mind. Because this is contrary to most diets, it takes some practice.

Purchase, prepare, or serve only the amount of food you think you’ll need. If someone else filled your plate, visually determine how much you think you’ll need and move or remove the excess.

Create a speed bump. Once you have the amount of food you think you’ll need, divide it in half on your plate to remind yourself to stop halfway and check in again. This little “speed bump” will slow you down and serve as a reminder to become mindful again if you’ve lost your focus. When you reach that point, stop eating for two full minutes to reconnect with your hunger and fullness level.

Create a pleasant environment. Even when you’re preparing food for yourself, make it attractive, as if you were serving it to someone special (you are!). Set the table, turn on music, and light candles, perhaps. Even a frozen dinner looks more appealing on a nice plate.

Minimize distractions. If you eat while you’re distracted by watching television, reading, driving, working, or talking on the telephone, you won’t be able to give your food or your body’s signals your full attention. Consequently, you may feel full but not satisfied.

Sit down. Don’t eat while standing over the sink, peering into the refrigerator, or propped up in bed. Instead, choose one or two places at home and at work for eating. This breaks or prevents the formation of triggers associated with other locations.

Calm yourself. If you’re upset, anxious, or excited, take some time to calm down before you begin eating. Likewise, avoid having stressful conversations at the dinner table.

Center yourself. Take a few deep breaths to calm and center yourself before you begin eating. This will help you slow down and give eating your full attention.

Express gratitude. In your way, take a moment to reflect on and give thanks for your food and the nourishment it provides.

Look at your food. Appreciate the appearance and aroma. Notice the colors, textures, arrangement, and smells. Imagine what it will taste like.

Taste your favorite first. Decide which food looks the most appetizing and start by eating one or two bites of it while your taste buds are the most sensitive. If you save the best until last, you may want to eat it even if you’re full—and you won’t enjoy it as much.

Put your fork down.When you’re loading your next forkful, you can’t pay attention to the one in your mouth. Besides, when you’re always paying attention to the next bite, you’ll keep eating until there is nothing to load on your fork.

Savor the aromas and tastes of your food as you eat. Mentally describe the temperatures, flavors, ingredients, seasonings, and textures. Stay conscious of all the different sensations you’re experiencing.

Take small bites. Large bites are wasted on the roof of your mouth, teeth, and cheeks where you have very few taste buds. In addition, much of the flavor of food comes from the aromas. When you slowly chew a small bite of food, the aromas are carried from the back of your throat to your nose, enhancing the taste.

Push your plate forward or get up from the table as soon as you feel satisfied. The desire to keep eating will pass quickly, so direct your attention away from food for a few minutes. Remind yourself that you’ll eat again when you’re hungry again.

Notice how you feel after eating. Enjoy the feeling of contentment that comes from eating just the right amount of food. If you overate, don’t judge or punish yourself. Just notice the physical and/or emotional discomfort and create a plan to decrease the likelihood that you’ll overeat next time.

Once you’ve experienced the pleasure of eating mindfully, you may be motivated to become more mindful during other activities too. Use intention and attention in your personal relationships and during routine activities like showering or exercising. Living fully in each moment will increase your enjoyment and effectiveness in everything you do.

Michelle May, M.D., a recovered yoyo dieter and the founder of the Am I Hungry? Mindful Eating Program ( Download the first chapter Eat What You Love (Link to

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