Lesson Six – Checking in.

When discussing emotional eating, I described a method of doing what is often termed “mindful eating” – picking a delicious food, sitting down alone with it in a comfortable place, giving yourself permission, and then eating it without external distractions.

This is basically what is meant by “mindful eating” when it is discussed as part of intuitive eating, and I do think it has its place. However, I feel like the term “mindful” has some connotations that make it challenging for lots of people. It seems to imply full, willful attention given to the food. Even the circumstances of mindfully eating a delicious food can seem rather ascetic – no distractions allowed. The focus is solely on the food.

However, in real life, not all eating can be this way. And maybe all eating shouldn’t be this way.

For example, eating is often a social experience. We eat with family, we cook for friends, we go out to restaurants on dates, we eat at parties. Socializing while eating, when you get down to brass tacks, is a form of distraction. It is also a wonderful way to eat.

There are other cultural food rituals in which distraction is embedded, and I really can’t bring myself to have a problem with them – popcorn and Jr. Mints at the movie theatre, pizza in front of the TV on Friday night. You can pry these from my cold, dead hands.

“Mindful eating” terminology also conjures up, for me, images of the previously-mentioned foodgasm. Real talk: not every meal is foodgasm material. Sometimes you just have to get the job done, quick-and-dirty style. Sometimes eating isn’t pretty.

Mindful eating is also often promoted as a sneaky method of food restriction, either overtly by intuitive eating approaches that promise weight loss, or we do it accidentally to ourselves, because our neurotic feelings about food can creep into even the most benign and food-positive activities.

And for these reasons, I’ve chosen to think about mindful eating a bit differently, and in a way that removes some of the pressure — since we looooove to pressure ourselves about eating, and even when we’re rejecting the idea of dieting pressure, somehow we manage to find ways of flagellating ourselves with the idea of Doing Intuitive Eating Right.

I think about mindful eating, at regular day-to-day meals, in terms of checking in.

Checking in with your food does not require a sustained level of monastic attention and being-in-the-present – although if this is something you do well, then by all means, knock yourself out. Checking in takes only a few seconds. It will not make you look weird. It is not even noticeable at all to the people I eat with. In fact, I’m willing to bet it’s something you may already do from time to time.

If you don’t, then having an explicit, sustained practice of mindful eating – the intense kind, where you sit down and eat food without distraction – on a regular basis, actually can start to generalize itself to other situations. It can become a completely unintentional habit that feels damn near effortless – this is how it happened for me.

After practicing having some pretty intensely mindful meals and snacks (mainly because I had reached the desperation point and couldn’t take another moment of alternately over- and undereating and feeling like crap about it, so I finally just went and did the thing that my dietitian was telling me to do), in a few months I started to notice that I do this thing, and I don’t really do it on purpose. It looks like this.

While I’m eating dinner with my family, or even just eating Kraft Dinner out of a mixing bowl in front of the TV (it happens), there will come a point where I stop for a second. Maybe five seconds. I stop picking up food with my fork, I stop looking at the TV, I stop talking, I even stop listening, and I just look at my food. Or I just close my eyes briefly and taste what’s in my mouth. I give my mind a moment to float, and listen to my little caveman thoughts of “Mmmmm, food. Food good.”

On occasion, I’ve been known to make a yummy sound.

And then, I go back to the rhythm of eating and talking, or eating and watching.

It happens several times during any given meal – tiny moments of food appreciation. Even if the food is not spectacular, I can still appreciate the sensation of hunger becoming satisfied.

Checking in also allows me to eat exactly what I want of what is offered – no more, no less. It tells me when I’m full, when I need seconds, or when I’m done with dinner but still want dessert. It tells me whether or not I’m still enjoying the food, and thus, whether to keep eating. It brings the food I’m eating into brief bursts of focus, enough to let me enjoy what I’m doing and truly get enough – so that I can then be truly finished with eating, and move onto other things.

Eating is one important part of your life. Whether you are having a sandwich or a five-course meal, practise spending a few moments to give it its due – no obsessing needed.

Sign-ups are now underway for the spring Eat Without Drama groups. If you want a safe, fun place to practise eating normally, come join us.

If not, that’s cool – I still want to hear about any sneakily-restrictive “mindful eating” messages you’ve received, in comments.







39 responses to “Lesson Six – Checking in.”

  1. Twistie Avatar

    This is actually exactly the way I eat, too! I do eat in front of the TV or the computer fairly often, and I eat with others all the time. But during every meal at some point I’m really going to look at my food, or take a good, long whiff of its aroma and be present with it.

    I’m very into food, but I cannot deal with it as a monastic thing. I need to talk and listen and interact, too. But it doesn’t take very long to appreciate what’s on my fork, whether it’s an amazing gourmet meal or a microwave dinner on a hectic day. It just takes a moment of really noticing.

    1. Michelle Avatar

      Thanks for describing how you do it – I think this is, for many people, a much more realistic and practical way to introduce mindfulness into their eating.

  2. Elsa Avatar

    I love this. The common exhortations to eat without distractions have always seemed to me to be artificially stringent, and if that suggestion is seen as an absolute demand, it’s just one more way to strain one’s relationship with food.

    Food is an odd, wonderful combination of things. It’s a necessity for everyone; in every culture, it’s also an excuse for gather together; for those of us lucky enough to have bounty and leisure, preparing or selecting food is recreational or even artistic.

    Because everyone (everyone fortunate enough to have enough, anyhow) is eating in a variety of ways, in a variety of situations, eating without distractions is unrealistic a lot of the time — and downright undesirable other times! “Checking in” makes so much sense to me, not least because it’s something I already do, even when I’m snackin’ away in the most casual, least recommended ways.

    Just before I clicked this link, I cracked open a bottle of Passover Coke and grabbed a handful of tortilla chips for a much-needed snack to tide me over until The Fella finishes cooking dinner. This premeal-snack-at-computer is exactly the kind of “mindless snacking” that many experts frown upon, but I couldn’t care less; I know that I’m taking care of myself by doing what my body and my imagination are urging — and the little “ahhhhhhh, mmmm” that I uttered as I took my first sip tells me everything I need to know about the rightness of this snack.

    1. Michelle Avatar

      Mmmmm…caveman snack :)

  3. Erin Avatar

    Loved this post Michelle! I have on many occasions (when diet-monstering) tried to do the “sit at a table with zero distractions, chew 8 million times, only focus on your hunger” and agree that it is not realistic, or really very effective.

    I like this idea of checking in. Even if just to remember what you are eating, and that you ARE indeed eating (is it only me that gets so carried away with TV, conversation, driving..that I forget what the repeated motions to my mouth are for?) And checking on how hungry I am too (in a NON DIET way), but to check-in before I reach the point of feeling ill.

    I think I need to do this more.. And maybe more more mixing bowl KD too..mm sounds good.

    1. Michelle Avatar

      Yes, that kind of diet-mentality “mindful eating” just sounds (and feels) like punishment to me. I think that kind of pressure might actually put people off eating, and especially off any kind of attentiveness while eating. Totally counterproductive!

      I do find checking in helpful because sometimes conversations (for me, especially conversations when I’m out at a restaurant) can be really awesome and distracting. So I always take a few seconds here and there to look at the plate, feel what’s going on in my mouth and my stomach, and try to taste the food – then return to the awesome conversation. Best of both worlds!

      The mixing bowl of Kraft Dinner is generally a mid-depressive-episode meal for me. Though it is pretty damn tasty, and it doesn’t dirty up too many dishes!

  4. Beth Avatar

    Real talk: not every meal is foodgasm material. Sometimes you just have to get the job done, quick-and-dirty style. Sometimes eating isn’t pretty.

    I read this, stopped and thought about it for a minute, and then continued on through the post. And then stopped and went back and read it again. And then had to walk away from the computer.

    Can I just say that there’s also a hugely elitist, classist, lifestyle-policing component to the kind of “mindful eating” that you’re criticizing here? Don’t eat while driving. Don’t eat lunch at your desk. Don’t, don’t, don’t – even though the necessity of doing these things is the reality of vast swathes of the working class.

    As an upwardly mobile person poised on the line between working- and middle-class, as a local- and sustainable-food activist and heartfelt foodie, I think of myself as having a pretty positive attitude toward food most of the time. I enjoy food a whole lot, and have the means to enjoy it in variety and abundance. But I achieve that positive outlook partly by ignoring and avoiding the HUGE, RIDICULOUS, PARALYZING guilt I often feel in those very moments of quick-and-dirty eating that are sometimes necessary in my life.

    Never mind that eating lunch at my desk is one of the most satisfying, sanity-saving things I do – escaping to the privacy of my office (I work in a public library, and often work morning reference desk shifts, can be an overwhelming dose of “public” first thing in the morning), fixing something fresh – or heating up leftovers of something I enjoyed enough to want to eat again the next day – logging onto Facebook or something completely non-work-related for twenty minutes, and relaxing into the sensuality of a mid-day meal. It’s wonderful.

    And sometimes, dammit, a Subway sandwich or a cup of coffee and a couple of doughnuts can be just as wonderful. Takeout straight out of the box at 9pm after a long day can be wonderful. Spontaneous chocolate while still standing in front of the grocery store can be wonderful. And that’s okay. I hadn’t really wrapped my brain around that before. Thank you.

    1. Michelle Avatar

      Can I just say that there’s also a hugely elitist, classist, lifestyle-policing component to the kind of “mindful eating” that you’re criticizing here?

      TOTALLY. You have my unalloyed permission to say this a million times if you want.

      Quick and dirty eating is sometimes necessary in life. Eating is a physical need, and you need to meet it however you can in the moment. Sometimes you will be able to take more time with it, and provide yourself with fancier or tastier or higher-quality food, but sometimes you just won’t. You have to do what you have to do to survive and get through the day, in those instances.

      Feeling guilty about that would be like beating yourself up for taking a hurried bathroom break in the sub-par work bathroom with the creaky stalls, instead of taking the time to go to the fancy bathroom in another building and indulging yourself in a more luxurious bathroom break. Seriously – doesn’t that sound ridiculous? And yet eating is just as much of a physical necessity that needs to be met in whatever way is most practical for the situation.

      1. BakerGirl Avatar

        I work a really busy life as a baker and pastry chef, like close to 50 hours a week. I love to cook and eat fresh food, and I’m a bit of a health nut, but sometimes eating a meal means standing over a garbage can at work and scarfing down a bowl of soup or a sandwich because I’ve got exactly 10 minutes before ovens start going off. Now that’s down and dirty. :)

        1. Michelle Avatar

          That is totally down and dirty, and I salute you for it!

    2. Tori Avatar

      Can I just say that there’s also a hugely elitist, classist, lifestyle-policing component to the kind of “mindful eating” that you’re criticizing here?

      So much this. I work in a school where an overwhelming number of students receive free and reduced lunch. Also, the physical arrangement of the school is such that there’s noplace to store lunch on campus — so guess what the majority of everyone ends up eating? Whatever the school cafeteria prepares.

      Also, my start time for work is 6:15am. Given that I am Not a Morning Person, this often requires me to bring breakfast as something that can be eaten in the car.

      For both of these: 1) Sometimes my choices don’t get to be “mindful” in the don’tdon’tdon’t sense. 2) Sometimes, they are not actually tasty, and I don’t enjoy them on a taste level. (Though I am going to stipulate here that our cafeteria staff is generally pretty awesome about things.)

      Sometimes the best “checking in” question I have is, “What purpose does this food serve?” And sometimes the best answer I have to give is, “It will keep me from being ravenously hungry before my next chance to eat.”

      Also, real talk: There is NO FOOD I like better than the leftover free breakfast some kid sneaks me when I’ve forgotten mine at home.

  5. Chris Avatar

    I’m recovering (yes, that word will do) from many years of vegetarianism, and my first experiences of eating meat have been very attentive – with a strong monastic-minful-theme. This has been pleasurable, interesting, confronting, and all kinds of generally positive things.

    As I’ve become more used to eating meat, that feeling of attentiveness has naturally receded, which at first I didn’t like. I wanted to maintain that feeling of reverence and attention. But why? Then I remembered that not all things need to be reverent. In my personal training work, I notice a lot of irreverence, and I think trainers forget the gravity of what they’re doing… maybe a slightly different topic… but I feel a sense of reverence to helping someone develop (I don’t do weight loss – I do focus on athletic progression and positive, enjoyable training experiences) – but this sense of reverence doesn’t mean it’s serious – I just remember that what I’m doing is important to me, and someone else, and then I let it go and have fun. Ideally. It’s not always fun, sometimes it is serious…. but I believe training, like food, should never be a punishment – I like to encourage positive experiences. But they can both be so politically loaded and.. anyway…

    Ah, I’m rambling. I think the point I’m trying to make has something to do with holding things lightly, not squeezing the b’jesus out of them, and squishing them into some mangled serious thing that ensures everyone will know how mature I am about serious stuff, and how I’m never frivolous, because all mature people know frivolity is bad.

    But I like frivolity!

    Thank you. I like your post! Over and out.

    1. Michelle Avatar

      Hah! I like your rambling. I agree that there is a time to be serious, but no one can sustain that level of intensity all the time, or generalize it to every single experience. I think people would be (and maybe some are) massively intimidated by the idea of Intensely Mindful Eating at Every Single Meal, to the point that it would discourage eating in the first place! Kind of counterproductive.

      1. Chris Avatar

        Yes – there’s no better way to discourage someone from doing something than reminding them they have to do it! And then to tell them to do it consciously, and enjoy it? Why is this so confronting? I had a thought – if food is medicine, then all food is medicine, because all food prolongs life. Eating doesn’t kill you – it’s not eating that kills you… And people think fat, the most efficient of all macronutrients, the one that gives you the most bang for your buck, fat’s supposed to be the bad one? It’s better at prolonging life than all the others! Eeek!

  6. Judy, Judy, Judy Avatar

    I agree with every word of this. And I have to say that I can’t eat mindlessly for long. I’ve noticed, I don’t enjoy food while reading. (I spend a lot of time reading.) I got the checking in thing from my sessions with you and I got the pay attention to what you’re eating thing from Thich Nhat Hanh.
    But I can still put away popcorn at a movie with mindless joy.

    1. Michelle Avatar

      Very interesting observations! I definitely have pockets of mindless eating, or purposely distracted eating, but I have found that, paradoxically, by not forcing myself to engage in hyper-attentiveness, I actually choose a lot of the time to sit down at the table and eat without doing anything else. Not every single time, but many times. My mind still wanders, but I find it relaxing, and I’m able to check in with my food enough to really enjoy it.

      I think when we have the freedom to experiment with different ways of eating, without shame or pressure, and to observe how they affect us, we can make real decisions about what to do with food, instead of either giving into or rebelling against all the shoulds in the world. And everyone’s decisions about how to eat are going to look a little different.

    2. JMS Avatar

      See, for me reading while eating helped me recover from a restrictive eating disorder. It’s also helping me with the stomach dysmotility issues that I’m experiencing right now (oh, being a formerly anorexic now fat lady who is losing tons of weight because of illness and trying to jam as many calories as possible into every meal is an OMG experience let me tell you Internets).

      But everyone’s different, and for me part of the “checking in” is giving myself permission to “check out” when that feels like self-care rather than self-neglect.

      1. Michelle Avatar

        This is a good example of how different conditions require different approaches. If you are struggling to just get food in your mouth because of an overbearing internal critic, tuning out is probably a good idea as part of the recovery process. It really depends where you’re coming from, and where you’re at in the process – which means that blanket recommendations like “eat mindfully!” may sound great but don’t actually work out for everyone in reality.

        Your situation sounds uniquely difficult! But you also sound like you know what you’re doing :)

        1. JMS Avatar

          Your work here on your blog has helped a lot. As has Ellyn Satter, whose work you turned me on to. So glad you’re here as a resource!

    3. Twistie Avatar

      Funnily enough, I sometimes plan a meal around a book I happen to be reading so as to stay in the moment with both the food and the book simultaneously.

      But that’s just me, and I’m sometimes a strangely whimsical person.

      1. Lisa Avatar

        Oh I knoowwww. Every time I read a book that describes a meal someone is eating I find myself trying to recreate that meal so I can eat it while reading. Ha!

        And if I can’t, then I stop and picture myself eating it, what it would look like and smell like and etc. Anne McCaffrey’s books really do that to me, in particular, for some reason.

  7. Ruth Avatar

    Thanks for this, Michelle. :) I hate the way most people talk about mindful eating – you know, if you chew your food the magical number of times, it will suddenly become so satisfying that you’ll never have to eat again in your life. It’s always presented in a way that makes me deeply uncomfortable, alongside “maybe you’re just thirsty, drink another pint of water”, “maybe you feel hungry because you’re a lazy fatty, go for a walk” (have you heard this one?? There’s at least semi-sensible reasoning behind the water one and the chewing one – unhealthy, restrictive reasoning, yeah, but at least it doesn’t fly in the face of how eating actually works)

    My problem is being too attentive to my food. I have the good attention, to the taste of the food, the smell of the food and everything about the food, how nice it is to eat food, but also to how much I’m eating, how much fat is in the food, how many calories in the food and how air is probably good enough food… all that rubbish. I find distracting myself a little helps me avoid the nasty, creeping thoughts. I don’t feel quite tough enough to face it head on. (Does it ever go away?) Even just having some music on is useful, but having people about is much better.

    I don’t want to stop paying attention entirely because I know this mindfulness is good for me, and I will fall back into my bad habits if I lose it. I never realised, before I made a conscious effort to listen to my body instead of forcing myself to ignore it, just how damn hungry I was. And it makes me so angry that people would present unhealthy, controlling behaviours as healthiness, as a good and honest relationship with your body.

    1. Michelle Avatar

      My problem is being too attentive to my food…I find distracting myself a little helps me avoid the nasty, creeping thoughts. I don’t feel quite tough enough to face it head on.

      I think this can definitely be a problem, especially for anyone who has experienced a restrictive eating disorder. At first, it can be helpful to have someone around to keep you company while eating, or to soothe yourself by having some distractions that keep the nasty critical voice at bay.

      Mindfulness, if you can work your way up to it, can be about the physical experience of eating – which can also help to distract from the critical self-talk. It takes practise, pulling your thoughts away from criticism and back to the here-and-now physical sensations of eating, but it can ultimately help to shift your focus from “food is bad” onto “I am eating food right now, and it is good.”

      It also bothers me, the control messages that often come with mindful eating messages. I think it’s a symptom of the disordered culture we live in – even in an attempt to experience food in a positive way, we find a way to be controlling and restrictive with it. It’s difficult to make the shift completely away from that controlling, restrictive paradigm — yet I think that is exactly what needs to happen in order for most of us to have a healthier relationship with food.

      Getting away from control messages has actually helped me, ironically, to eat in a way that looks more “healthy” by popular standards. But it has nothing to do with me forcing myself or shoulding myself into it — totally the opposite, actually.

  8. librarychair Avatar

    With the right friends, social eating can combine with mindful eating.

    My friend Sicily and I tend to talk about food while we’re eating. We talk about what we’re eating, how it tastes, different ways and times it’s nice to eat it, things that go well with it, other foods it reminds us of, how it’s made, all sorts of things. It’s funny when we’re in a group setting and we start talking about this stuff, we realize that it’s not what most people do, and Sicily usually offers an explanation that we’re both pretty intense foodies and talk like this all the time. I wonder how it looked to the people at the wedding shower the other day, though. Two fat ladies talking enthusiastically about food, about how full they were, about how they wish they could try x but they know it’ll give them a stomach ache, about how y tastes, about how there’s oranges over there so you’d better take a benadryl. How is that dressing? Pretty tasty, sweet and spicy, with sesame. I’m so glad they had oil and vinegar. How is the cream sauce chicken? Really good, it has good mushrooms. I just put the olives on my salad. Oh man I got too many olives. How’s the coleslaw? It tastes like coleslaw. The pasta salad is really good. That’s just a little snippet of the running stream of conversation that happens whenever Sicily and I eat together. I do wonder, now that I think of it, what thoughts run through the heads of other eaters at the table? I’m not necessarily sure I’d like them, but I am curious.

    1. Michelle Avatar

      Haha, I sometimes do this with certain friends too! We also like to describe recipes to each other in excruciating detail. And I’m not what anyone would describe as a foodie or even a fabulous cook (I’m a decent cook, but not fancy at all.) It can be fun to do this, although it probably sounds a bit obsessive to the outside observer!

      When I eat with clients in sessions, we sometimes do something similar, and I find it really helps to get people in the habit of checking in with their food, even later, when they’re on their own.

    2. Anmarie Avatar

      I love this! The only conversations I’ve heard that come close to this concept are when one person complements another’s recipe at a potluck. Most people I know, especially women, talk about food (especially food that tastes good) in terms of calories, restriction, “can’t”, “shouldn’t”, or future atonement on the eliptical or stair climber. I used to do this, but now it drives me nuts, as even being around this type of conversation makes it challenging to savor my own food.

      I think you and Cicily have a much healthier (and fun!) approach. I’m going to try this with a few friends and see what happens. Thanks for the great idea!

  9. @StayAtHomeMaven Avatar

    How wonderful are you? I just wanted to thank you for this post. I just started working out and this, of course, has sparked many unwanted conversations both in my head and with other people about how I SHOULD be eating. And this, in turn, has edged me back into being super attentive about everything I put in my mouth. I honestly can’t live like that. Not long term. I can’t, I won’t, I refuse. Not this time. It’s never worked before, so why would it work this time? So I’m going to remember to just CHILL OUT. Check in with myself, observe my hunger levels, enjoy my food. Period. Thanks so much for the reminder. You rock.

  10. Ann Avatar

    Oh, I know these people. You can never do “mindless eating” ever because you’ll just eat too much, and of course if you do that, you’ll gain weight! Oh noes! As if that is the worst thing to ever happen to a person.

    Mindful eating is good, and is good to practice–but if you have to severely interrupt your life to make sure you’re doing it “right” every time, you’re not practicing it, imho. What you’re practicing is rigid eating, and that’ s not good. Real, normal, and healthy eating doesn’t have a strict consistency; after all, we’re human, and to be human is to constantly face change. Try to be mindful, but don’t kill yourself over it, and don’t become obsessed with it…those are my thoughts.

  11. Jennifer Avatar

    I don’t really identify with this stuff, not in a positive way. I connect TOO much to my food. Having each bite is like a drug fix or an orgasm and I can’t stop and think about when my next fix will be. I never really eat mindlessly. Eating is an intense experience for me and my distraction is never taken away from the food. But I hate being fat, especially since I’m apple shaped, I feel totally unfeminine and bleh.

    1. Michelle Avatar

      I’m sorry you’re feeling bad about your body – I know it really sucks to feel unfeminine when you wish you were feminine. The experience you describe with eating is one I’ve had, in an uncomfortable way, when I’m not eating enough to begin with – it makes me more preoccupied with food, during eating and also between eating times, because there is a constant low level of either hunger, or anxiety about getting enough, under the surface. Which just heightens the overall experience and natural enjoyment of eating into DRAMA!!! It’s not a nice feeling.

  12. […] Fat Nutritionist’s posts on eating, which have been reminding me that it’s good to eat before I’m crashing […]

  13. Kim Avatar

    I really appreciate this because, as others have said (I didn’t read all the comments though), the whole mindful eating thing does seem to eventually become kind of diet-esque when too many parameters are put on it. Whenever I start thinking about mindful eating, in fact, I scoff at it for this very reason. It’s VERY unusual for me to get to do true mindful eating with no distractions. I wish I could pay that sort of attention to my food at every meal, but I find I eat a lot of my meals with people. And I like it that way.

  14. Rapunzel Avatar

    I want to learn how to do this, to eat mindfully and normally.

    I’ve been on an awful diet with a doctor’s program for the past 4 or 5 months. I’ve been nothing but obsessed with food since it started, feeling constant shame and guilt, and just plain sad because I can’t have the foods I love and can’t do the things I love to do (baking, making pizzas, cooking REAL meals for my husband).

    Thank the heavens, it’s going to stop soon. I haven’t had the courage to beat past the shame I’d feel in officially quitting this diet, though I haven’t lost any weight since the 3-month mark (because I keep slipping up, but then I punish myself for it and by restricting myself I seem to maintain my weight).

    But I found out this week that we’re moving in the next few months and I’ll get away from this doctor’s program and leave it all behind. I’m going to start over in a new town and a new home and I’ll be damned if I ruin it all with a diet! Saying it is easier than doing it though. How am I ever going to eat a bowl of cereal again without feeling guilty? It’s nothing but carbs! Carbs are bad! Don’t eat fruit! Carbs are bad! How am I going to learn how to eat something as simple as a bowl of corn cheerios or an apple without having that voice yelling at me for it? That’ll be the hardest part.

    Maybe I’ll find the courage to go to therapy or something after we move…you never know. Though the thought of going to a therapist scares me just as much as going off this diet does.

    I assume not all nutritionists are created equal. I’ve heard from a few people that nutritionists can be great. Or they might not. How do you know if a nutritionist is right for you? How do I know that it won’t just turn into another diet scheme? I’m a picky eater (though not the pickiest compared to some), and I’m afraid a nutritionist (like my family) will just tell me to get over it and that I’m only being stubborn about food. “If you eat it enough you’ll like it eventually” is what my sister said. Right.
    But you’re not like regular nutritionists. Would you even recommend going to one?

    1. Michelle Avatar

      I do have a great respect for dietitians. They have good training, and are often excellent at counseling people and understanding their food issues. But, you’re right, not all are the same, and lots of people have had negative experiences with dietitians.

      To find one who will really be able to understand your food issues, I think it’s probably best to call around to RDs in your area (you can use eatright.org or dietitians.ca to find a RD in your area), and ask them specifically if they have experience with picky eating in adults, and if they are supportive of a Health At Every Size, intuitive eating, non-dieting approach.

      I often have recommended in the past that people begin their search looking for RDs who work with eating disorders, because they have a better chance of being exposed to HAES, non-dieting ideas. It’s not a foolproof strategy, but it might be a good first step to filter out people whose ONLY focus would be weight loss or food shaming. But there is really no reason to be afraid of carbs – even people who have problems metabolizing them (like those with diabetes) can and do eat them. Eating carbohydrate is an important fuel source for your brain and muscles. If you don’t eat enough carbs, your body can actually start breaking down your body’s tissues (like muscle) to make some of its own. Kind of an unpleasant process.

      Adult picky eating can be difficult. I never really intended it to be part of what I do, but I have worked with several people on this issue now with good results. Ellyn Satter (an RD and therapist) provides some info and training for practitioners about adult picky eating, and I’ve learned a lot from her. The biggest issue seems to be giving people permission to say NO to foods they don’t want to eat, and providing a supportive, non-pressuring setting in which they can explore new foods if they really want to.

      Expanding your food repertoire is not something that just “happens” and it’s not something we are necessarily born with, either. Learning to like new foods, as a kid or an adult, is a learning process. It can require something like 15-20 exposures (and an exposure does not mean eating the food, but can be anything from simply sitting in the same room with it, to tasting it and spitting it back out again) before a child learns to like a new food. The same thing can happen with adults, and they deserve the space and support to go through that process without pressure.

      Anyway – that’s enough rambling. Here’s a little article on adult picky eating from Ellyn Satter – http://www.ellynsatter.com/the-adult-picky-eater-i-63.html

    2. Anmarie Avatar

      You may also find this website helpful: http://www.aweighout.com I actually stumbled across that one first, and a post there led me to Michelle’s fabulous blog. It’s not a substitute for counseling or your own nutritionist, but I find it to be a great source of support and information for HAES and related topics in this misguided,diet-obsessed culture.

  15. Pyctsi Avatar

    I find that if I figure out what it is I want to eat and have that or something close I automatically check in to my food while I’m eating, this generally happens most with something home cooked, but it can be chocolate or anything (especially if it tastes really good).

    I also find I eat less when I satisfy a specific hunger rather than just eat the first thing I can (I don’t know if it’s a taste I want or specific nutrients). I’m also not entirely sure what I’m craving, I just know that sometimes, no matter what I eat, it’s not what I was wanting and I don’t feel satisfied no matter how full I get.

  16. Erika Avatar

    THANK YOU. After reading this I can’t wait to subscribe to your blog (found it via the Intuitive Eating forums). I have so been struggling with mindful eating. It’s one aspect of some of the intuitive eating programs that I realize I have anxiety around. I really can’t stand it, and was thinking it was my “downfall” and one of the reasons I wasn’t yet able to eat intuitively.

    But yes – there are many ways to be more mindful rather than sitting down by yourself with cloth napkins, nice music, and paying attention to every bite (ugh, this even stresses me to write this!). Checking in with yourself at intervals – great. Taking a breath at the beginning of a meal and thinking, how hungry am I? What do I want to eat first? These are all ways of being more mindful, but not elevating food to the end-all-be-all of the next 20 minutes.

    1. Michelle Avatar

      Thanks for coming by and reading…and I love your descriptions of other ways of doing mindful eating. Setting the bar really high is stressful for anyone, let alone someone who is already feeling anxious about food. I would consider music, cloth napkins and paying attention to every bite to be…pretty advanced, if not downright impractical a lot of the time!

      I confess that I eat probably 2/3 of my meals alone at the table in the kitchen, but it is something I have gravitated to out of the habit of mindfulness, not something I imposed on myself in the hope that it would induce mindfulness (except for a brief period of time where I was practicing this intensively on purpose, out of sheer desperation.) I find it more satisfying to just eat and be alone with my lunch, much of the time – but you’ll still find me on the couch sometimes with a bowl of something. And even when I’m alone with my food, there is more of a checking in process than a total, sustained attention.

  17. […] You can eat as meditation, too. You can pay attention to every bite, the way the flavor travels across your palate, the mouthfeel of every morsel, the action of chewing, the sensation of swallowing, the cleansing of the palate with a drink or a bite of something else, allowing no other thought to take precedence over that. (This is sometimes referred to in intuitive eating circles as “mindful eating,” which borrows the term mindful from Buddhism. It’s not really a thing you can do every time you eat, but it can be really good to do occasionally, I find. There are also other interpretations of the phrase.) […]