I tried mindful eating for 2 weeks and this is what happened.
I had a wild and crazy thought... what if I ignored all the crazy diet rules in my head and just ate when I was hungry? What if I stopped when I was just satisfied, not when I cleaned my plate, or when my calorie counting app told me I had enough? This is mindful eating, and I tried it for two weeks. What I learned blew my mind.
Have you ever gotten sick and tired of following someone’s diet rules?
No matter what diet you follow - keto, the 21 Day Fix, Weight Watcher’s, Jenny Craig - by nature "dieting" means following someone else's rules.
I don’t know about you, but strict rules around my eating always causes my inner rebellious teenager to make a dramatic appearance. She's great at diet sabotage.
The thing is, I'm a pretty healthy eater mostly. I'm pretty sure my problem isn't the quality of foods I'm eating, or the types of foods. I eat lots of veggies, healthy fats, nuts, seeds, fruit, meats and seafood. I eat very little processed foods except for my once weekly treat meal.
I'm pretty sure I just eat too much.
And to be honest, I don't want to be that 70 year old lady who is tracking calories or macros, you know? I don't want to be in a nursing home asking the staff how many Weight Watcher's points are in the mashed turkey delight.
I decided to totally ditch my diet rules and listen to my body for a change.
I would give mindful eating a try.
Mindful eating is listening for your body’s cues of hunger and fullness. Being present while eating, instead of it being a mindLESS activity while watching Netflix.
For this serial dieter it was harder than I ever imagined. But I learned so much about myself during the past two weeks.
In this post I’ll share:
Why I tried mindful eating.
The rules for my mindful eating experiment.
4 big fears I had about ditching my diet rules and eating mindfully.
What I learned from this experiment.
Whether or not I will continue with this natural, yet oddly strange, type of eating.
Tips and resources if you want to learn more about mindful eating.
Why I decided to throw away the diet rules for two weeks.
I was tired of making excuses.
I’ve written in the past about putting some weight on over the past three years. I could give you a million and one excuses but now I understand there is only one reason I gained weight:
I ate more food than my body needed.
It actually kind of sucks admitting this truth because for 36 months I’ve blamed bad knees, a bad back, and some emotionally challenging life issues. And, to me, these have been very valid excuses.
Now I understand that focusing on excuses and adopting a “poor me” mentality hid the real problem.
I was, and still am, eating too much.
I was tired of dieting.
It’s not that I haven’t tried to get back to my skinny weight. I HAVE. I had the most success with keto (and I wrote about it here). I enjoy eating keto but I don’t want to count macros or avoid tortilla chips for the rest of my life.
When I lost over 80 pounds in 2008 I counted calories. That worked. Well, it worked when I stuck to my calorie level which was always way less than I thought it should be. I found myself obsessed with MyFitnessPal and logging every bite and manipulating my portions to fit the calorie range they gave me, even though I kept it up for years and years.
With all this internal diet drama in my brain, plus 20 pounds that STILL needs to come off, I decided to try something revolutionary.
Listening to my body.
It turns out our bodies are actually kind of smart.
Isn’t it insane that for following a specific diet is a relatively new thing? Before Weight Watchers and Ayds diet candy, and the Cabbage Soup Diet people ate two or three times a day and moved around and generally stayed at a healthy weight.
Obviously our lifestyles have changed in the past 50 or so years, but has our inner body wisdom? I wondered if it was possible to listen to my body for cues of hunger and fullness.
To eat according to one simple rule: Eating only when I was hungry. And (the hardest part) stopping when I’m satisfied.
Not until “full,” or when my plate is clean, but satisfied.
Satisfied means feeling like you’ve had enough, but also light and energetic.
You could go out and take a brisk walk after eating to satisfied.
To contrast, “full” is a heavy feeling, often paired with regret or thoughts like “I could have skipped that second helping.”
It makes sense, and it is a basic premise of intuitive eating, that if you eat between hunger and satisfaction you will eventually arrive at your healthy weight.
But first, a few guidelines for my mindful eating experiment.
I’ve dabbled in intuitive or mindful eating before so committing to two weeks of listening to my body made me a bit nervous. Here’s why… Every book I read about intuitive eating said to listen not only to your body’s signals of hunger and fullness, but also to eat what your body is hungry for.
My body is apparently a toddler, because if I threw all diet rules out the window it wants fries, chicken nuggets, and chocolate chip cookies.
The funny thing is that normally I’m a pretty healthy eater. I just, according to the extra weight on my body, eat a little too much healthy food.
So my past mindful eating experiments were kind of a sugar-coated disaster, if I’m being honest.
I decided to create a few guidelines for myself.
MY “RULES” FOR mindful EATING.
Only eat when I feel physical hunger.
Stop when I am satisfied, not “unbutton your pants” full.
Throw out all the old diet rules I have ever followed, but…
Don’t revert to eating foods (like fries, chicken nuggets, and chocolate chip cookies) that I normally don’t eat.
This last little “rule” was just a cautionary note to self. I sometimes eat what I call “crap food” on Saturday nights. It’s sort of a ritual, but the rest of the week is generally healthy food. So no need to introduce junk that I normally don’t even desire.
I also made sure to plate my food, so no grabbing a handful of nuts out of the container even if I’m hungry. And I always sat down to eat.
Some mindful eating proponents recommend putting your fork down between bites, which I generally did. Another big tip is to avoid any other activity while eating, like scrolling Facebook, watching TV or reading. When I’m eating alone I do like to read or watch videos and generally it’s not a problem. If I notice myself becoming distracted and thinking more about what I’m watching than my food, I’ll stop.
WHAT DO HUNGER AND SATISFACTION REALLY FEEL LIKE?
You may have seen hunger scales on Pinterest. Often people rank hunger from -10 (meaning you haven’t eaten in days, lol), 0 is neither hungry nor full, and +10 is after Thanksgiving dinner when you unbutton your pants and take a nap you feel so sick.
I do better with word descriptions. I wanted to wait until I was mildly hungry.
Not the first little whisper of “I’m getting empty,” but a pretty solid “ok, my tummy is empty, I am feeling a few rumbles, it’s definitely time to eat.
It’s not really unpleasant.
Hunger, for me, was pretty easy to figure out.
Stopping when I was satisfied took a little more practice.
I say “eat until satisfied” which means you no longer feel hunger, but you’re not full either. For people like me, who enjoy their food, this is a tiny bit unpleasant. I’m not used to leaving food on my plate.
Even when calorie counting, you bet your bottom dollar I’d finish every last calorie I had left.
So satisfaction is a sweet spot between eating just enough and not eating too much.
At first I was going over a bit, but then I wouldn’t feel true hunger again for 5 or more hours. That’s no fun either! For a person who likes to eat anyway.
Satisfied means you are covered, so to speak, for about 3-4 hours.
It’s a learning process.
I had 4 big fears when starting the mindful eating experiment.
When you’re a serial dieter like me, there is a little anxiety when you decide to ignore all the rules you’ve been taught.
These were my big four fears:
If I throw away all my diet rules I will only want to eat junk food.
If I eat something delicious like ice cream, and I have no rules around it, I won't be able to stop eating.
I'm scared of being hungry. It feels awful and painful.
I'll gain weight because I need the discipline of a diet.
I acknowledged those fears, but didn’t let them stop me.
What I learned from 2 weeks of ignoring diet rules and eating mindfully.
I learned a ton about myself, both mentally and physically, during this little challenge.
What I learned about hunger…
A little hunger won’t kill me.
Some days I feel hungry a lot, and other days just a little. I was honestly surprised because the hunger didn’t really correspond to what I thought should happen. On a day I took a 5 mile walk in the morning (and in the past would have justified a big ass breakfast to compensate for the zillions of calories burned - sarcasm alert) I was no more hungry than days I was relatively sedentary. A very few days I was hungry (and ate) five times during the day. A few days I was only hungry for two meals.
Most days I am hungry three times though that hunger doesn’t coincide with my usual meal times. I’m often hungry around 10am, 1pm, and 6pm.
My food quality affects how often I feel hunger. A bowl of oatmeal with almond milk and banana (high carb, low protein) left me ravenous in 2 hours, but when I ate eggs with roasted veggies and avocado (higher in protein and fat, low carb) I was satisfied for hours.
I easily recognize the physical sensation of hunger.
My body needs a lot less food than I think it should, dammit.
What I learned about stopping when satisfied…
It's a fine line between feeling “satisfied” versus feeling “full.” Sometimes it's just a matter of a few bites. Often I have to guess.
At first it was hard to stop eating when I was satisfied, especially if there was still food on my plate. Old habits die hard!
When I eat "junk food" I actually can stop when I'm satisfied. A certain food does not "trigger me" to overeat. That I couldn’t control myself around sweets was a story I told myself; mental drama I created. Unintentionally, of course. Just because I had overeaten Ben & Jerry's in the past does not mean "I can't stop." It means on October 6, 2018 (or whenever) I ate 3 bowls of ice cream. Or “that one time I ate a full bag of pretzels and a container of French onion dip.” The "I will be triggered to overeat anytime I have junk food" is a thought I have and it is not true. Nor does thinking this thought serve me.
I actually CAN pay attention to my body's signals of hunger and fullness (and obey those signals).
Sometimes I've stopped eating, thinking I'm satisfied, and I probably should have had a few more bites. In other words, I was hungry a few hours after a meal instead of it holding me for 3-4 hours before more hunger.
Sometimes I don’t want to stop eating when I’m satisfied. More on this below…
What I learned about diet rule drama…
Sometimes a gif best illustrates my feelings, lol. Suffice it to say A LOT of diet drama came up. It still does to a little degree.
If you’re someone who has dieted then likely you know the feeling if you decide to just “eat.” All kinds of crazy thoughts race through your brain when you’re just trying to eat your supper.
That’s too many carbs!
That’s not enough carbs!
Don’t eat after 8pm!
Sugar is the devil!
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day!
You have to intermittent fast!
If you skip a meal you’re metabolism will slow down!
That’s your entire day’s worth of points in one meal!
Don’t exercise on an empty stomach!
Exercise first, then eat!
That’s too much fat!
You don’t have enough fat!
You get the idea. The crazy thing is how these widely accepted rules contradict each other. Insert exasperated sigh.
Oh, and the excessive use of exclamation points is on purpose. Because that’s how loud the crazy diet rules were screaming in my head sometimes.
It was hard to ignore these rules, but I did my best.
What i learned about mental drama around not eating…
One of the first days of my mindful eating experiment a weird thing happened. It was 8pm and I really, really wanted to watch Food Network and have a snack. That’s kind of my routine. I love eating veggies and homemade dip at night.
Unfortunately I wasn’t hungry.
At 9pm I still wasn’t hungry. And I was getting upset. I wanted to eat my damn veggies and dip. But no hunger.
By 10pm I was literally fuming. It sounds overly dramatic and a bit silly to admit it here, but I was downright pissed off. I wanted my freaking food and my body wasn’t cooperating.
At 11pm I gave up and went to bed. Still angry.
Thinking about this experience later was interesting. I had no idea I would have such strong feelings about NOT eating. I knew it would be hard, but I was a little shocked at the intensity.
I share this because eating mindfully is not always easy.
We eat for a lot of reasons other than hunger:
we eat for entertainment (like my TV and snack habit)
we eat because it’s lunch time, or dinner time
we eat out of habit
we eat because we’re offered food
we eat because it sounds good
we eat because someone brought donuts into the office.
We also eat for emotional reasons.
I always called myself a stress eater. I know that when I’m tired or angry or sad or anxious or jealous or disappointed I want to eat.
Eating makes me feel better in the moment because it distracts me.
But, as you probably know, emotional eating never solves a problem. In fact, it makes you feel worse afterwards because you not only ate food (usually crap food and a lot of it) that you didn’t need, but you have to suffer with the guilt of overeating as well.
When you take food out of the equation, as with mindful eating, you have to sometimes sit with those icky feelings. Like the anger I experienced. And sitting with unpleasant feelings is no fun.
I’ll admit I did a f*ck ton of journaling during this two week mindful eating experiment. Journaling helps me problem-solve and gain clarity. It doesn’t always make me go from sad to happy with the stroke of a pen, but I’m better able to sit with uncomfortable feelings and journaling brings me peace.
There were also some positive things I learned about NOT eating.
When I threw away my diet rules I didn’t suddenly want to eat only processed junk. That was one of my big fears. I found I eat like I normally do and made mostly healthy choices. I just ate less food overall.
I learned not to be terrified of hunger. I used to be really, really afraid of hunger. I didn’t want to feel it AT ALL.
I’m that person who would pack enough food in my carry-on for a family of five when it’s just me and my flight is 90 minutes. I thought feeling hunger was painful and awful and scary.
It’s really not. It’s just a feeling in your body. An emptiness.
I am learning to sit with hunger and just feel the physical sensations in my body instead of making it mean things like "I'm starving, I won't be able to control myself when I finally eat, etc." It's just a feeling and I am no longer afraid of it.
What I learned about mental drama around overeating…
The biggest lesson I learned is that I am not a bad person if I overeat.
Sometimes I did eat past satisfied and went to "full." And that's ok. It doesn't mean I am a failure or a glutton or I "cheated" or anything beyond "I ate a few bites past full." I do not EVER have to feel guilty about this.
Mindful eating is a learning process. And every mistake is an opportunity to learn.
Also - gasp - there were a few times I knew I wasn’t hungry and chose to eat anyway.
I’m still not a bad person or a failure.
My worth as a human has nothing to do with what I put in my mouth or the size of my body.
What I learned about weight loss or weight gain…
Here’s the deal… you can be overweight, or gain weight, even if you only eat healthy, organic, foods.
You can be a fat vegan.
You can eat keto or call yourself paleo or only shop at Whole Foods and still be overweight.
If you overeat any food you will gain weight.
Portion size matters. Your body, through its inherent wisdom and hunger signals, will tell you what your portion sizes need to be.
Interestingly, in two weeks I lost 3.2 pounds.
That might not sound amazing to you, but I’ve been on a plateau for months.
I lost weight with zero diet rules and by listening to my body.
I also learned that I can eat the occasional crap food and still lose weight. One night I ate Taco Bell nachos, most of a bean burrito and small bowl of Breyer’s mint chocolate chip ice cream for dinner. I ate at 5:15pm and wasn’t hungry until 1pm the next day.
Will I continue eating this way?
Hell yes, I will!
It’s weirdly wonderful to eat mostly healthy food, occasional treats, with zero guilt and zero calorie counting. This is how our bodies were designed to eat and damn women’s magazines and the diet industry for f*cking it up for us.
I feel zero sense of deprivation, since I am eating what I want. The only negative is not being able to eat as much as I want. But that wsn’t serving me anyway.
Listening to my body's cues of hunger and fullness makes me more conscious of other healthy habits I want to cultivate, like drinking enough water and getting enough sleep.
But it’s not all protein pancakes and sunshine.
I know that I will have to continually work on my mindset. The journaling I mentioned above is super important to me because stripping away the diet rules and random “just because” eating reveals - for me - the unpleasant habit of stress eating. So I have to deal with that stress like a damn adult.
Do you want to try a mindful eating experiment?
If you are sick and tired of dieting, or know you have some overeating issues, or just want to learn to tune into your body and listen to its wisdom, I really encourage you to try a 2 week mindful eating experiment too.
Here is a step-by-step plan to getting started:
Plan a two-week period to do your mini challenge and write it on your calendar.
Write down your “rules.” My rules were: (1) Only eat when I feel physical hunger. (2) Stop when I am satisfied, not “unbutton your pants” full. (3) Throw out all the old diet rules I have ever followed, but… (4) Don’t revert to eating foods (like fries, chicken nuggets, and chocolate chip cookies) that I normally don’t eat.
Do your normal meal planning and grocery shopping so you have plenty of healthy food in the house.
Eat how you normally eat. In other words, if Doritos, Oreos, and Ding Dongs aren’t a part of your life now, don’t go crazy and start adding them in. Eat the foods your normally do.
Feeling hunger and satisfaction has a big learning curve, so be kind to yourself. Eating past satisfied is not an excuse for negative self-talk. It’s a learning process. Ask yourself "why?"
Journal about your experience. Seriously writing is your best friend and problem solver. When you want a big bowl of popcorn to watch a movie and you're not physically hungry it's emotionally unpleasant NOT to eat. In your journal ask yourself why?
Mindful eating resources
Please don’t feel like you need to read a book or Google mindful eating to get started. It’s pretty simple. You eat when you’re hungry and stop when you’re satisfied. No book can tell you when you are hungry. That’s something you need to figure out for yourself.
But I understand that sometimes we want to learn more, or hear other people’s experiences, or want to feel supported. So I’ll share a few books I’ve read on the subject and link to them on Amazon.
How to Have Your Cake and Your Skinny Jeans Too by Josie Spinardi (This is my favorite book.)
Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program that Works by Evelyn Tribole (This is considered to be an intuitive eating bible by many people.)
The F*ck It Diet: Eating Should Be Easy by Caroline Dooner
I hope this helps you understand the power and wisdom your body has. I encourage you to try a mindful eating experiment for yourself! If you do, let me know what you think!
Happy mindful eating!
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Are you a busy lady (like me) who really, really wants to live a healthy life? I get it because I’m obsessed with living my best life too. Here you’ll find simple ideas and strategies to plan a healthy and happy life.
I’m Jacqui, by the way, and I’m the crazy busy lady behind Plan A Healthy Life.