Why mindful eating may not be enough

This four part series of articles covers how to tackle overeating and losing weight by answering four essential questions. In case you missed questions one through three, you’ll find the links at the end of today’s post.

Throughout this series I’ve encouraged you to adopt a practice of mindful eating; being present and aware when you eat and tuning in to things like your hunger levels and the reasons that you may be craving food, especially when you aren’t physically hungry. Mindful eating is one of the most effective tools you can use to take control of emotional eating and overeating.

The problem is, there is a right and a wrong way to be mindful about your eating. Many women are so “mindful” of their eating it’s driving them nuts. A lot of people who struggle with overeating feel like food and weight loss take up way too much of their brain space and it’s not helping. In fact, it’s probably contributing to vicious cycles of overeating or even binge eating, yoyo dieting, and weight regain.

If you want to leverage the practice of mindful eating, it’s critical to ask yourself this essential question:

When you are mindful of your eating – what are you mindful about? Have you learned to cultivate compassionate curiosity?

Is your head filled with “shoulds” and “should nots” and calorie counts? Do you sit down at the table with a critical attitude toward yourself or with judgments about how hungry you “should” be? Does your approach to mindful eating have room for you to make mistakes and learn and grow from them, or are you ruled by an inner perfectionist who calls you names (“fat,” “stupid,” “lazy”) when you don’t exactly follow your plan?

This is a question worth answering.

Your self-judgment and perfectionism might be costing you the success and peace with food you crave.

An effective mindful eating approach is more than simply paying attention. It includes treating yourself with compassion and curiosity.

Start from the perspective that there is a reason you are overeating or eating foods you wish you weren’t. Next, compassionately investigate this. Consider your “failures” or missteps opportunities to learn something about yourself or to discover more about what you need to succeed. One of my most perfectionistic, high-achieving clients found success when she learned to stop telling herself she wasn’t motivated and wasn’t trying hard enough. Clearing away the frustration and self-judgment allowed her to understand that she was actually exhausted, tired of balancing a plate that was always full, and felt like giving up her evening treats was just one demand too many.

When she cultivated compassion and curiosity she was able to see more clearly that if she wanted to stop overeating at night, she needed new ways to hide her (no longer) hidden hungers.

If you expanded your curiosity and eliminated the judgment, what might you learn?

What might you discover the next time you ate when you weren’t really hungry or when you found yourself in the kitchen mindlessly eating food you didn’t even want?

If you are up for the challenge – it is this:

Next time, adopt compassionate mindfulness as soon as it occurs to you. Even if you have already eaten the stuff you wish you hadn’t.

Ask yourself two questions:

  1. How am I feeling right now (an emotion)?
  2. What do I know about why I am hungry/why I want to eat when I’m not hungry/why I just ate the way I did?

Allow space for the answers. You will be amazed what you can learn.

Take good care,


Check out the rest of this series covering the four essential questions to ask if you want to stop overeating, emotional eating, or lose weight:

Question One: Answer this key question if you are overeating or want to lose weight

Question Two: How to move from eating on autopilot to mindful eating (and why you want to)

Question Three: You need this if you don’t want to overeat

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