By Michelle May, M.D.
Before I answer the question, “What is the difference between Am I Hungry? and intuitive eating, HAES®, or other mindful eating programs?”, let me say that although I can’t speak for the others, I believe there are more similarities than differences between us. Most important, we are all doing the essential work of “cracking the cultural veneer” (as Am I Hungry? facilitator Julie Goyette MS RDN described it recently).
We are all champions of the same cause
If you’re reading this, you’re already aware that there’s an incredible shift happening in the way many health and wellness professionals approach nutrition, physical activity, and self-care. This grassroots “anti-diet” movement (for lack of a better word) has emerged from the growing awareness that decades of dieting have seriously disrupted our instinctive relationship with food and our bodies.
This movement is not new but the internet has made it possible for it to flourish in recent years. Many individuals who previously felt alone in their confusion and frustration now realize that their experiences with dieting are the norm, not the exception. Many health professionals who independently came to the same conclusions now have a voice and a tribe.
The wild, wild web…
Unfortunately, at the same time, there has been an explosion of bloggers dolling out suspect health, nutrition and fitness advice, social media feeds full of fitspo and thigh gap images, targeted internet ads promoting weight loss scams, and a culture steeped in the myth that thinness equals health, beauty, and happiness.
Some individuals and organizations have co-opted mindful eating, intuitive eating, and even the body positive movements to promote their diets, rigid food rules, and weight loss programs, whether from a fundamental misunderstanding of these concepts or a recognition of the threat they pose to the billions of dollars generated from the pursuit of thinness. (Let’s call them wolves in sheep’s clothing.)
The anti-diet movement is still relatively small compared to the forces that tell us we cannot trust ourselves to manage our own eating. The anti-diet movement needs to grow quickly and effectively or the next generation of yo-yo dieting, disordered eating, orthorexia, and shame-based decision-making is likely to engulf more lives than ever before. That’s why I don’t think of my colleagues who are doing similar work as competitors, but as champions of the same cause.
But that begs the question, how is Am I Hungry? different?
Am I Hungry? offers non-diet, weight-neutral, mindfulness-based programs and training that overlap with the published principles of Intuitive Eating, Mindful Eating, and Health at Every Size.
I’ll come back to our “non-diet, weight-neutral, mindfulness-based” principles in a moment, but it’s not really about how Am I Hungry? is different but about what we bring to the table: The Mindful Eating Cycle.
- The Mindful Eating Cycle is built on the mindfulness principles of awareness, non-judgment, curiosity, and acceptance.
- The Mindful Eating Cycle provides the structure for recognizing patterns in our beliefs, thoughts, feelings, and behaviors as they relate to food, physical activity, body image, and self-care.
- The Mindful Eating Cycle enables wellness professionals and individuals to recognize and resolve problematic eating behaviors by focusing on the root causes.
- Using the foundation of the Mindful Eating Cycle as a guide, participants learn specific processes to systematically replace their ineffective patterns with new beliefs, thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that support the vibrant life they crave.
- The Mindful Eating Cycle progressively builds awareness of why, when, what, how, and how much you eat, and where you invest your energy.
- The Mindful Eating Cycle provides a practical decision-making framework that is simple to learn and internalize.
- The Mindful Eating Cycle can be easily applied to myriad populations and conditions (diabetes self-management, binge eating disorder and emotional eating, those struggling after bariatric surgery, students, athletes, families) and in different formats including workshops and webinars, coaching and clinical encounters, retreats, therapy, campuses, and organizational wellness.
Am I Hungry? Principles
While I was not aware of intuitive eating, mindful eating, or HAES when I began this work in 1999, somehow this journey brought Am I Hungry? to a similar place. Now we describe our programs and mindful eating trainings as non-diet, mindfulness-based, and weight-neutral.
Non-diet: Whether you call it intuitive eating, mindful eating, or the non-diet approach, Am I Hungry? utilizes a non-restrictive methodology that promotes the fearless enjoyment of all food without restriction, deprivation, or guilt. As people heal their relationship with food, they begin to make choices that support the balanced, vibrant life they crave.
Mindfulness-based: As we become more aware of our physical state, thoughts, feelings, and actions in the here and now, we are able to choose our actions (response-ability) rather than continue to react out of habit (re-act out the past). With mindful eating, instead of trying to stay in control then subsequently feeling out of control, individuals learn to be in charge of their decisions.
Weight-neutral: Am I Hungry? is consistent with a Health at Every Size paradigm and respects the diversity of body shapes and sizes. While we acknowledge the individual’s right to make decisions based on their own values, we do not encourage people to participate in our programs with the goal of weight loss since that is counterproductive and interferes with their ability to listen to and trust themselves.
People tell us that we are really good at what we do!
The mission of Am I Hungry? is to change the way the world thinks about eating. To that end, we work really hard to provide top-notch programs and training to effectively create that shift. People who participate in our training programs give us an average rating of 4.7 out of 5! (Read what they say too!)
One of our strengths is that we utilize a variety of adult-learning methods to keep participants curious, engaged, and evolving. Each session is designed to be highly interactive and experiential and employ auditory, visual, and kinesthetic techniques that compliment a range of learning styles. The flow of each program is intentional, logical, and progressive. Our programs promote autonomous decision-making that’s respectful of individuals’ preferences, lifestyle, and experiences.
But ultimately, it is our mission that makes the difference!
By Michelle May, M.D.
I signed up for yoga classes on the four days we were at sea during a recent cruise to celebrate our 30th anniversary. During the first class, I discovered that the yoga room had an open doorway from the ship’s gym so we heard the whirr of treadmills and clanging of weights in the background. After noting my distraction, I settled into my practice and took no further notice.
During the second class, I was in a downward facing dog looking at the ocean through the floor-to-ceiling windows when a guy strolled in, headphones on, and began a solo boxing workout at the back of the room, smack in the middle of my view. He watched our yoga class while hopping from one foot to the other, grunting and jabbing the air like Rocky. The teacher seemed puzzled too but continued the class.
During his 30-minute (!) workout, I experienced thoughts and emotions ranging from curious and amused to incredulous and irritated. Mindfulness has taught me to be just as curious about my own responses as I was about his apparent mindlessness. Eventually, I made this distraction part of my yoga practice and kept bringing my attention back to my breath and postures.
Have you felt a little distracted?
During all the recent New Year’s diet-hype, it occurred to me that mindful eating in a diet-obsessed culture is very much like practicing yoga while someone boxes in the back of the room. Whether we are simply aware of the constant murmur of diet-talk all around us, or frequently distracted by it, we can choose to ignore it and settle back into our practice. However, since restrictive eating messages are particularly heightened this time of year, it becomes increasingly difficult to cultivate your attention and maintain your intention to make healing your relationship with food the priority over temporarily losing a few pounds.
Whether it’s your girlfriend’s latest fad diet, your doctor’s admonishment to lose weight, or even our beloved Oprah touting Weight Watchers (as though it’s not really a diet since you can eat whatever you want as long as you don’t exceed your allotted points), the pull toward the familiar, though ineffective, old approach is alluring.
Tips for staying focused on mindful eating:
Take a few deep breaths. This simple grounding strategy will help calm your nervous system and bring you back to the present moment so you can decide where to focus your attention.
Use self-compassion. It is understandable that you would initially feel drawn toward something that sounds easy, fast, new, ground-breaking, or miraculous; these are the types of words that marketers use to attract customers.
Be compassionate toward others. Oprah’s enthusiasm about Weight Watchers reminds me of my own each time I experienced initial “success” (though it never lasted). I truly wish her well and I hope this is the answer for her. However, I know that weighing, measuring, counting, and logging is not the answer for me.
Do a reality check. There are two questions to ask yourself:
1. Does this sound too good to be true? If so, then it probably is!*
2. Can I do this every day for the rest of my life? If not, then don’t bother doing it for a day.
Choose your focus. Imagine what would happen if you took a fraction of the time, energy, attention, and money that you would have spent on that new diet (whether they call themselves a diet or not!), and instead invested it in becoming the expert in yourself?
Take supportive action. What is one small step you could take toward mindful self-care when you feel tempted (or frustrated) by all the diet-hype ? A Body-Mind-Heart Scan? Use your Am I Hungry? Mindful Eating Virtual Coach App? Take a mindful bite?
Shift your focus
Mindful eating, like yoga, is teaching me to be present and nonjudgmental. I am repeatedly amazed at what shows up when I simply pause to notice. Our final yoga class was held on the grassy upper deck of the ship as we pulled away from the French Riviera. I was in a downward facing dog looking at the ocean through the railing when I saw this beautiful rainbow…
* At first, mindful eating might sound too good to be true! Eat what you love? How can that possibly work? Admittedly, it sounds simple, but it isn’t always easy. Like most worthwhile changes, it’s a process! (Read How Long Does It Take to Learn to Eat Mindfully?
By Michelle May, M.D.
Peace on earth may feel like an elusive fantasy these days. Along with all the other angst in the world, many people could use more peace with food. Think about it… do you feel like you’re “losing the battle,” “struggling to control your appetite,” “resisting your cravings,” “fighting the enemy,” “mustering your willpower,” or “avoiding bad foods”? (And don’t even get me started on the “War on obesity”!)
A combative approach is counterproductive and gives food even more power over you—the opposite of what you want: Peace.
You’ve probably heard the sayings “What you resist, persists,” “Where your attention goes, energy flows,” and “Focus on what you want, not on what you don’t want.” When you’re focused on avoiding, fighting, or resisting your urges to eat, you are still directing your attention and energy toward food. Could that be why food is frequently on your mind and why the foods you “shouldn’t” eat seem to show up everywhere?
Let go of the struggle!
What you may not realize is that the phrase “Let there be peace” means that peace is already here and all we need to do is let it be! And that’s true of food too: You were born with the instinctive ability to manage your eating effortlessly, without all the struggle. Admittedly, you may have forgotten those skills, but trust me, they can be relearned. In fact, that is the mission of Am I Hungry? – to change the way the world thinks about eating.
And there’s an a enormous bonus: When you relearn how to cultivate peace with food, you also learn how to cultivate peace in other aspects of your life and create space to focus on what you really want!