The impossibility of mindful eating for weight loss?

Woman sucking her fingerToday’s post was inspired by Diane Carbonell’s recent post on mindful eating and weight loss. I’m inclined to think that mindful eating for weight loss is possible, but not easy or simple.

Let me explain.

I started brushing up my mindfulness skills in September and since that time I’ve had a couple of experiences that I think are very relevant to the topic of learning to eat mindfully. I’ve also been intrigued by a phenomenon I’ve come to call the disconnect between thinking and actual experience.

What do I mean by this?

Well, I also started salsa dancing in September and I love my new hobby to pieces and I haven’t skipped a single lesson. Nevertheless, every Saturday morning when my alarm clock rings, a tape in my head is activated: “’It’s too hard to get up this early’, ‘I would be much more comfortable staying in bed today’, ‘It’s not a big deal if I skip just this once’ and so on”.

This tape is playing in my head all the while I’m showering, making breakfast and putting on makeup. And every time I get to the salsa class I’m happy I did and feel super great afterward.

What’s so puzzling about this phenomenon is the fact that my mind doesn’t seem to (be able?) learn from my (actual) experience that salsa is fun.

I have another, recent example that is closer to the topic of mindful eating. While I was in the throes of flu #2 a few days ago I continually sucked sugary cough drops to ease my breathing. At some point I was feeling really wonky and realized I’m not merely suffering from the flu but also a bad case of sugar high (I wasn’t very keen on preparing proper meals for myself so I think I was also eating those cough drops for hunger(!)). Even my belly felt uncomfortably distended, perhaps because I was sucking in air with those cough drops.

The point of the second example is that I didn’t bother checking in with myself how I was actually feeling and how my actions contributed to my situation. If I had done it earlier, it would’ve saved me a lot of discomfort. Luckily, this time I learned something – I switched to sugarless cough drops and took an effort to make meals for myself. 🙂

How is this all relevant to mindful eating?

Most of us run on autopilot most of the time, and eating is certainly no exception to the rule. It takes considerable effort to pause and check in with yourself, perhaps doing things like the following:

  • paying attention to your physical sensations
  • asking yourself how you really feel at the moment,
  • asking yourself how you will feel if you eat this item of food
  • asking yourself if this what you really want/need
  • your emotions
  • your inner talk, “tapes”

I think it’s super important to learn to make a difference between how you really feel and your autopilot thoughts. In my salsa example my autopilot mind said that it’s really horrible to have to get up this early on a Saturday morning. Actually, getting up on Saturday morning is usually pretty neutral as an experience – regardless of what my mind says.

So, next time you say yourself it’s really horrible to have to eat veggies, why don’t you eat a slice of cucumber and ask yourself  “What does it really feel like to eat a slice of cucumber”? Or a piece of chocolate?

Diane also asked in her post whether mindful eating can help you eat healthy vs. eating fat-laden junk food. I don’t know but some people (i.e. Carla Birnberg) seem to have gone through a process where they ended up eating a healthy gluten-free diet, based on how they felt after eating certain foods.

I’m of the opinion that if you’re able to consistently eat mindfully, you’ll probably lose weight.

Unfortunately that is not an easy skill to learn to do consistently. In my experience, even washing dishes mindfully is sometimes mind-bogglingly difficult, so why would learning to eat mindfully (to lose weight) be any easier?

What do you think of mindful eating? Have you ever tried it?



  1. debby says:

    Really well thought out article, with good examples. I agree with you that its not easy to consistently eat mindfully. Its worth working on (like your salsa lessons!)

    • Satu says:

      Yes, it is almost ridiculously difficult to do anything mindfully in the long run. On the other hand I don’t think the only thing we need for weight loss is counting calories – you need to learn more than that to stay in normal weight in the long run.

  2. Oh loved this Satu because you reminded me that I OFTEN felt apathetic about gym classes and yet I loved many of them (back when I went to the gym!). I’m the same with a lot of things though – the thought of them is worse than the event itself.

    Last Saturday I was to go for drinks with a friend and to the movies and yet I spent all afternoon dreading it and trying to think of excuses to cancel. I KNEW I’d enjoy it, but there was this reaction that I just wanted to stay in my comfort zone or remain apathetic or something. I’m not sure….

    • Satu says:

      Hi Deb! I’m slowly coming to the conclusion that our thinking (linguistic?) mind has a life of it’s own that isn’t always in sync with reality…. 🙂

  3. Val B says:

    Funny that I would see this today. A few days ago I saw a TED Talk that inspired me to try mindful eating. I’ve been asking myself out loud before I eat “Am I hungry?” During my meals, I’ve been checking in to see if I feel full. So far my only commitment is to ask those two questions. It’s much harder for me to be able to tell when I’m full. It’s something I become aware of after a meal, but I think by paying attention to how I feel during the meal and then relating it to how I feel later might create a connection, so I’ll be better able to tell in the future. I think mindful eating should definitely be a part of every healthy eating plan!

    • Satu says:

      Hi Val! I’ve noticed that sometimes I get full quite suddenly – I was 4/5 through a bowl of lentil pastina soup today when I felt I had had enough and wanted no more. I know many people use scales to learn to assess how hungry/full they are before and after a meal.

  4. Aimee says:

    I think the concept of mindful or intuitive eating is a process that evolves over time if you’ve struggled with food issues for any length of time. I’m still working on it. I marvel at people like my sister who can push a plate away with food on it and say I’m done. After observing my son for the last 7 years I believe we all start out as mindful eaters. I’m wondering when the message regarding food changed for me.

    • Satu says:

      I agree with you and I think that most women lose their intuitive eating instinct in their teens, some even earlier. I still remember how carefree my attitude toward eating was as a child – and of course I was normal weight then!

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