Why Mindful Eating is not a Weight Loss Plan

Can mindful eating help me lose weight? Maybe, but we’re missing the forest for the trees. Mindful eating isn’t a weight-loss tool, and I’m here to tell you why.

I believe that mindful eating is an excellent tool to add to your arsenal when trying to change your relationship with food. I use it with my clients every single day, and research tells us that it can be an extremely effective approach to helping people unlearn fear around food and come to a more peaceful place with food and their bodies.

But because we live in diet culture, mindful eating, which is a non-judgemental approach to food that encourages us to become fully present and aware in our eating experiences, has been wielded by some health professionals as a weight-loss gimmick. Rather than helping guide you through unlearning food rules and helping you to come to a more neutral place with food, these mindful-eating-for-weight-loss practitioners twist the original intent of mindfulness with food, and use it to try and sell you yet another weight-loss diet plan. 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. These messages are misleading and damaging, and ultimately misrepresent what mindful eating is all about.

So, I’m here to set the record straight. Here are my thoughts on why mindful eating isn’t–and shouldn’t be used as–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 is a way of eating that focuses on being present with the eating experience, and being curious about how we experience all different kinds of foods. This is why I use it as a tool to help people make peace with their eating habits, and in its original, non-weight-focused form, it’s a super useful perspective! But when we keep the dream of weight loss alive, we inherently will be conscious of what we eat, and how we think certain foods will impact our weight. If we’re thinking about how food impacts our weight, we won’t be able to truly give ourselves unconditional permission to eat all foods, which ultimately will bar us from experiencing the process of true mindful eating, which is meant to be a nonjudgmental experience.
  2. Research shows us that long-term weight loss just isn’t sustainable for the vast majority of people: We have a lot of good research that shows us just how virtually impossible sustainable weight loss is for the majority of the population. We also have research that shows us that focusing on weight loss, and dieting in general, is a huge risk factor for developing disordered eating. And we also know that, if there are certain health risk factors that you’re personally worried about, there are various means to take care of yourself and your body that have nothing to do with weight loss. With all of that in mind, I can’t ethically promote any program that promises weight loss. It might happen, and it might not. Either way, if we focus on how our bodies feel, rather than how we look, we can support our health and respect 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 magic happens.

If you enjoyed this blog post, be sure to check out the Facebook Live episode I did on the same topic!