THE BLOG
07/01/2013 12:49 pm ET | Updated Aug 31, 2013

Mindful Eating Is Just a Fad (And Other Myths)

"I will NOT fantasize about fruit like it is a sexual object." I laughed out loud when I read this comment on one of my blogs, a step-by-step mindful eating exercise with a piece of fresh fruit, published on a popular diet website. (You can download this exercise and other mindfulness activities in "FreeTreat: A Week of Mindfulness and Self-Care.")

Admittedly, mindful eating is a big leap from counting calories, but I certainly wouldn't describe it as "sexual." However, after a mindful eating experience, one of my retreat participants said that eating this way felt "sensual." One definition of sensuous is to use all of one's senses, so that is an accurate way of describing mindful eating.

When you watch a toddler eat (or do anything) you can see that mindfulness is human nature. They touch, smell, manipulate, taste, and explore their food while they experiment with the act of eating. When you bring "beginner's mind" to each experience, eating becomes a multisensory adventure that is much more satisfying and enjoyable.

The concept of mindful eating is growing rapidly in awareness and popularity. At the same time, there are many myths:

Mindful eating is just another fad.

Unfortunately, the phrase "mindful eating" is being misused by some people as a way to talk about restricting food intake. That is a fad -- and it is not what mindful eating is all about.

Mindful eating is too hard.

Mindfulness is simply placing your full focus on the present moment, and that can be challenging. It is much easier to eat a piece of fruit, a candy bar, or an entire bag of potato chips without thinking about it, since we've done that thousands of times before. Since mindful eating is just a new skill, every bite is an opportunity to practice.

Mindful eating takes too long.

It's challenging to slow down during a busy day to really notice what we are consuming, much less how we are consuming it and how our body is responding to it. However, mindful eating doesn't have to take a long time to be effective. You can mindfully consume a piece of fruit or a piece of chocolate in just a few minutes -- and turn that few minutes into a mini-meditation that will nourish your body and your soul!

Which brings me to the next myth...

Mindful eating is woo woo.

In contrast to multitasking and going through the motions, it does feel a bit spiritual to focus on just one thing at a time. And while mindfulness has ancient roots, it is imminently practical in our modern, hurried, overwhelming environment. Unlike the rare acts of meditating, going to a place of worship, or reading spiritual works, everyone eats. Bringing mindfulness to the table is a useful way to tap into the calming effects of the present moment.

Mindful eating is "mechanical."

In the "FreeTreat" mindful eating activity, I've broken the process of mindful eating into discrete steps. Unfortunately, when you read it without actually trying it, it can sound mechanical. But each step of this exercise has a purpose; with practice, it becomes more natural and less awkward. Going through this exercise once intentionally (or perhaps even reading it) may help you bring a little more awareness to the next meal you eat. You might be surprised at how that changes your experience.

Mindful eating is "just" eating with awareness.

Many people teach mindful eating as simply "eating slowly, without distraction." That's certainly an important part of it, but I believe that mindful eating encompasses the entire process of eating: awareness of body cues and non-hunger triggers for eating; selection of food for enjoyment and nourishment; eating for optimal satisfaction and satiety; and using the fuel you've consumed to live the vibrant life you crave. This broad application makes mindful eating a powerful tool for developing a healthier, happier relationship with food.

For more by Michelle May, M.D., click here.

For more on mindfulness, click here.