Dieters learn to focus on hunger sensation to eat mindfully

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Many chronic dieters have trained themselves to ignore sensations of hunger or fullness.

Am I Hungry?® Mindful Eating Workshop

6:30 - 8 p.m. Begins Monday, Sept. 17

Continues through Nov. 5

Valley West Community Hospital
11 E. Pleasant Ave.
Sandwich, Ill. 60548
$60 per person

Registration required:

Or call 815.786.3962

Focusing on hunger may seem like a strange way of helping people lose weight, but the Mindful Eating program at Valley West Community Hospital does just that. By thinking about the body's actual need for nutrients and real hunger and fullness signals, the eight-week program aims to bury the idea that going on a diet is the way to maintain a healthy weight.

"We know that 'diets' don't really work because they can be so restrictive," said Cindy Johnston, RN, Community Wellness Manager at Valley West. She pointed out that babies rely only on nature's signals for hunger and fullness, and stop eating when they are full. "But many of us have become conditioned to ignore those signals. We just don't stop when we're satisfied."

The Mindful Eating sessions, beginning Sept. 17, are based on Michelle May, M.D.'s Am I Hungry® materials and lessons, which the doctor developed to spread her message that adults are best off shelving 'diets' and learning to listen to their bodies. Three years ago, Valley West sponsored a visit by May, which attracted 750 attendees. Now Johnston and Beckie Frieders, CHES, health promotion specialist with Valley West, are certified to facilitate classes based on the doctor's non-diet approach.

"Our class is all about learning to be in charge of your eating, to get rid of a lot of the rules about 'bad' foods and help people relearn the actual signs of hunger," Frieders said.

"We're not about counting calories or points," she said.

Mindful Eating helps participants think about why they might tend to overeat-are they procrastinating to avoid an unpleasant task, filling an emotional need or trying to calm an anxiety?

"Once people give some thought to these issues, it can be easier to see where problem eating comes from,'' Frieders said. She pointed out that over the eight-week session, there is a lot of reflection and discussion about where bad eating habits come from. Many of today's adults were reared during the "clean plate club" era, which elevated dessert to a goal to be reached after eating healthier fare.

In order to help adults relearn how to enjoy food, the class gathers for a meal catered by the hospital's food and nutrition services department toward the end of the course.

"This is a really great teaching tool because it helps reinforce the habits we've already discussed. When we are having dinner, we emphasize taking only the food you want, being in the moment so that you can savor the bite of food that you are tasting right then,'' she said. "It all folds into being mindful, not just looking to get to the next bite."

In addition to the classroom instruction and discussions, participants receive a book and a food awareness journal - but not a food or calorie log.

"It's more of an opportunity to reflect on what you've learned, and how you felt after eating a particular meal," Frieders said. After the course, participants are also welcome to join a monthly support group at the hospital and a closed Facebook group so participants can share experiences and articles and continue to encourage each other.

"We've seen that this program really works, so we are excited to offer it again this fall," Frieders said.


Am I Hungry® offers a website and blog that provide support and tips for navigating real-world eating challenges. The website includes healthy recipes and exercise tips, as well as background about Michelle May, MD. The blog features Dr. May's observations with lots of practical information in enticing entries such as "Eating out? Please yourself, not your waitress."