It’s Not Mindful Eating If You Have to Count Calories

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Counting Calories Only Makes Matters Worse

A recent study about mindfulness published in the journal Obesity is making headlines, and if you don’t understand some basic principles of mindful eating, you’d think it’s not good news.

The study found that adding mindfulness to a diet and exercise program had no impact on weight management and little impact on important health parameters such as blood sugar and pressure.

The trouble is, the researchers appear to have their own definition of mindful eating. And it’s one that, in my opinion, directly conflicts with the definition of mindfulness.

Mindful Eating Does Not Include Calorie Counting

According to MedPage Today, the study protocol recommended that study subjects reduce their calorie intake by 500 calories each day.

But I think calorie counting directly conflicts with mindful eating. So to encourage people to do it in a study of mindfulness tells me one thing: they’re not studying mindful eating.

Here’s why calorie counting conflicts with mindful eating:

1. An individual’s calorie needs can vary daily as a result of many factors, including physical activity, hormonal regulation and who knows what else.

So in trying to cut 500 calories a day from an eating plan, a person might end up eating less than their body needs that day. That means ignoring the body’s hunger cues. And we know what that leads to. Can you spell “dieting causes you to gain weight, not lose it”?

2. Calorie counting can also set up feelings of deprivation that lead to overeating.

When you can’t eat what you want because it will take you over your calorie limit for the day, we all know how that can end up. See above point.

3. The very definition of mindfulness precludes calorie counting.

Mindfulness is defined as deliberately paying attention to the present moment, without judgment. Calorie counting takes you outside the present moment with food, layering on all kinds of judgment about how the food might affect your weight and health.

Setting the Record Straight about Mindful Eating and Weight Loss

The headlines also focus on the lack of effect of mindfulness on weight loss. But that’s also in direct conflict with what we know about mindfulness.

Mindful eating is not a practice meant to help someone lose weight. Indeed, it’s not about specific goals at all. Instead, it’s about opening yourself to the moment, to help you find your way to balance in your eating and, ultimately, life.

When it comes to weight, it may mean weight loss if that’s what your body needs to attain balance. Depending on the individual, it could also mean weight maintenance, or even weight gain.

The effect of mindfulness on the really important health parameters works the same way. Mindfulness can help a person live in a way that supports the body finding its healthy balance in these areas, and that can mean great things for health and well-being, regardless of how it affects weight.

Savoring the Flavor of True Mindful Eating

This year’s National Nutrition Month® features mindful eating as its theme. A big shout-out for that! When the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and its over 75,000 members, the majority of whom are registered dietitians, stand behind something, it can go far towards spreading the word.

Let’s just be sure we’re all talking about the same thing.


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About the Author

Marsha Hudnall, MS, RDN, CD

If you’re looking for an embodiment of dedication disguised as obsession, look no further. Marsha is a registered dietitian who has spent the last four decades working to help women give up dieting rules and understand how to truly take care of themselves. Her mission in life is to help women learn to enjoy eating and living well, without worries about their weight. She encourages women to embrace their love of food, which you might call being a foodie. If so, it’s appropriate because being a foodie means you pay attention when you eat. That’s a recipe made in heaven for eating well. Marsha is the President and Co-Owner of Green Mountain at Fox Run.

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