Why Mindful Eating is NOT a Weight Loss Plan – Psychology Today

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Mindful eating is one of the most powerful tools that I know of to help us change our relationship with food. It has dramatically changed the way that I eat, I’ve seen the impact that it’s made in my clients’ lives, and there is ample research to support its effectiveness in helping people heal disordered patterns around food.

But due to the growing popularity of mindful eating, this valuable tool has been co-opted by some health professionals as a weight-loss gimmick. And I find this to be incredibly problematic. Here is why.

Mindful eating is a non-judgmental approach to food that encourages us to become fully present and aware in our eating experiences and with our bodies. It is based on the Buddhist practice of (although most mindfulness practices as used in psychology are secular). It is about accepting our bodies as they are and using the inherent of our body to guide our eating. It is about building trust in ourselves and discovering how to have a pleasurable and nurturing relationship with food.

When we bring intentional weight loss into the mix, we also bring conflict into our relationship with food and our bodies. Rather than guiding us in unlearning food rules and coming to a more compassionate and neutral place with food and our bodies, these mindful-eating-for-weight-loss plans twist the original intent of mindful eating and use it to try and sell you yet another weight-loss diet that is doomed to fail.

Wondering how to spot these mindful eating diets in disguise? Many of them will say things along the lines of: “if you eat slowly and mindfully, the weight will just naturally fall off” or, “if you eat mindfully, you’ll naturally gravitate towards healthy foods and you’ll effortlessly drop pounds.”

Sounds too good to be true? That’s because it is. No one can predict what will happen to your weight when you start eating mindfully. And if anyone claims that they can, I recommend that you run in the other direction. These messages are misleading, damaging, and ultimately misrepresent what mindful eating is all about.

Here are 3 reasons why mindful eating isn’t a weight loss plan.

  1. If we’re focused on weight loss, we can’t be truly unbiased in our relationship with food. Mindful eating encourages us to be curious about how we experience all different kinds of foods. To truly do this, I believe that we must embrace (or work towards embracing) a non-restrictive approach to food. This means moving away from rigid notions of  “good” or “bad” foods and eating according to what our body wants, not what we think will make us lose or gain weight. When we hold onto the pursuit of weight loss, we inherently judge our food choices and make eating decisions based on how we believe certain foods will impact our weight, not based on listening to our bodies. And right there, we have lost the essence of mindful eating.
  2. Long-term weight loss just isn’t sustainable for the vast majority of people. Research study after research study suggests that most people are not able to maintain significant weight loss long-term (ie. over a period of 5 years and more). This is not due to a moral weakness or character deficit in upwards of 90% of our population. Rather, it is because the entire and weight loss paradigm is flawed. The most predictable long-term outcome of dieting is weight gain. And focusing on weight loss and restricting our food intake (ie. dieting) is a huge risk factor for developing disordered eating. The good news? We can take care of ourselves and work towards health without ever focusing on weight loss. Tuning in to how our bodies feel, rather than how we look, can support our health and wellbeing wherever our weight ends up.
  3. Mindfulness is about trusting our body, not trying to override it. When we focus on weight loss, we are focusing on trying to change and manipulate our body. The core of mindfulness though is reconnecting with our internal cues and wisdom; it’s about honoring what our body needs, not what outside forces try to impress upon it. When we let go of the desire for weight loss, or at least shift it away from the focal point of our minds, we give ourselves the opportunity to trust our bodies again. And that’s when the real magic happens.

Alexis Conason is a clinical psychologist specializing in the treatment of overeating disorders,  dissatisfaction, psychological issues related to bariatric surgery, and sexual issues. She is the founder of The Anti-Diet Plan (sign up for her free 5-day mindful eating intro course). 

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