Mindful Eating with Michelle May, M.D., CSP

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Mindful Eating with Michelle May, M.D., CSP

Michelle May, M.D., CSP (Certified Speaking Professional) is an associate professor at Arizona State University, published author, and mindful eating expert. She empowers audiences to engage in mindful eating through a non-diet approach to food and emphasis on movement and self-care. Dr. Michelle May founded “Am I Hungry? Mindful Eating Programs and Training” to share her unique approach to mindful eating practices and authored the series Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat.

Mindful Eating with Michelle May, M.D., CSP

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“Learn how to eat what you love. So you can eat whatever it is that you want without being afraid of losing control or feeling guilty and love what you eat, which means being aware of what you're hungry for, how hungry you are, eating it in a way that is satisfying and feels enjoyable, and then stopping before you feel so full that you're uncomfortable.”

“Mindfulness is about bringing awareness and purpose to what I'm doing. So it's eating with intention and attention…my favorite intention is to feel better when I'm done than I did when I started.”

“I mean, at first it's such a mind shift change that it does require some coaching, some awareness, some tools… but eventually it becomes totally natural the way that it was when you were born, and you don't have to think about it all the time. You go back to being a person who eats instinctively, knows when they're hungry, eats what they love, stops when they feel satisfied, and then they go and use the energy to live their life. They're not worried about burning calories, they're not thinking about their next meal or when they're going to eat this, that, or the other thing, because they trust their body to let them know.”


Mindful Eating with Michelle May, M.D., CSP

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Guest’s Links:
Learn more about Dr. Michelle May’s mindful mindset on her website: https://michellemaymd.com/

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/amihungry/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/michellemaymd/

YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/c/MichelleMayMD

Show Notes:

1:31 - Introduction
9:24 - The genesis of diet culture
11:05 - Mindfulness and eating
20:49 - Understanding hunger
25:35 - Understanding fullness
39:59 - Weight loss and mindful eating
43:35 - Culture and eating habits

Full Show Transcript:

Announcer (00:01):

This episode of The Matt Feret Show is brought to you by the Brickhouse Agency. Brickhouse is a boutique independent health insurance agency that focuses on finding the right Medicare coverage for folks across the country. Matt's wife, Niki, is the heart behind Brickhouse. She's great at making confusing things clear and is passionate about helping people find a Medicare insurance policy that suits their individual needs. To schedule a free one-on-one appointment with Niki or a member of her team, head on over to brickhouseagency.com or simply call (844-844-6565), and someone will help you schedule a phone call or a Zoom meeting. The consultation is free because the insurance companies pay Brickhouse, not you. There's never any pressure or obligation to enroll. Your clearer, simpler Medicare journey is just a call or click away brickhouseagency.com. Not affiliated with or endorsed by the government or federal Medicare program. Contacting Brickhouse Agency LLC will direct you to a licensed insurance agent.

Speaker 2 (01:08):

Hello everyone. This is Matt Feret, author of Prepare for Medicare and Prepare for Social Security Insiders, guidebooks, and online course training series. Welcome to another episode of The Matt Feret Show, where I interview insiders and experts to help light a path to successful living in midlife retirement and beyond.

Matt Feret (01:31):

Michelle, welcome to the show.

Dr. Michelle May (01:33):

Thanks, Matt. I'm so glad to be here.

Matt Feret (01:36):

Glad to have you. So tell everybody what you do, how long you've been doing it, and how you help people.

Dr. Michelle May (01:42):

Well, I am actually a physician by training. I was a family doctor for about 16 years, but back in ‘99 I started my own company to teach people how to heal their relationship with food, which is a weird way of saying that I work with people who struggle with yo-yo dieting, other eating issues. And so now I am actually going to be celebrating the 25th anniversary of our company next year, which is exciting and I love what I do. I get to help people live a big, vibrant life.

Matt Feret (02:16):

That's awesome. So do you work with just individuals or companies or groups or, I mean, I'm sure across the whole spectrum, over those number of years?

Dr. Michelle May (02:25):

Yes, actually I do. I work directly with people. I have clients that I coach or that I teach in retreats and workshop formats. We also offer workplace wellness. And the other thing that I love is I train other health and wellness professionals how to offer the programs I've developed. And so they can then offer them at their workplace or in their community or in their clinical office.

Matt Feret (02:53):

So what's the difference between a diet and an approach?

Dr. Michelle May (02:58):

That was a subtle pickup on your part. So a diet could be for any reason, the old fashioned, the old original definition of diet was just simply a pattern of eating. But that's not how any of us think of it anymore. We think of it as some restrictions. Some either we're restricting a particular food, a particular ingredient, or there are some outside in rules about what we're supposed to do in terms of our eating. So I use the word approach because really what we're trying to do is get people to change the way they think about food, move away from restrictive thoughts and actually learn, actually the title of my book, Eat What You Love and Love what You Eat. Learn how to eat what you love. So you can eat whatever it is that you want without being afraid of losing control or feeling guilty and love what you eat, which means being aware of what you're hungry for, how hungry you are, eating it in a way that is satisfying and feels enjoyable, and then stopping before you feel so full that you're uncomfortable.

Matt Feret (04:14):

So as a guy who has been working out most of my adult life, and also reading all about diets and realizing that there's an approach, not just a diet, how does someone like me, let's say middle aged, I'd like to still think I'm younger than middle aged, but let's be honest, middle aged in approaching that other side of the middle age, how do I start thinking about this differently if I've been doing a calorie restriction as one way? You've got food trackers out there, you've got Lose It. Well, I mean whatever brand name you want to use, right? And then you've got, I mean, we've all heard South Beach, low carb, I mean-

Dr. Michelle May (04:56):

Thousand, millions, millions, literally millions and millions of hits on the word diet. So a person who has been managing their eating in a restrictive way for their whole life. And that was my story too, by the way. So long before I ever went to medical school, I was yo-yo dieting. In fact, I dieted through high school, through college into medical school and into my medical practice. And two things happened. One is I kept hearing the same story from most of my patients, which made me realize that it wasn't just me that wasn't having success sticking with one plan or another indefinitely. And the second thing that happened is I could observe my own young children at the time, and they never restricted what they ate. They ate when they were hungry, they mostly stopped when they were full. They ate what they wanted and they never thought about food in between times.


Now, I was exactly the opposite. I was thinking about lunch the minute my feet hit the floor, and I hadn't even had breakfast yet. And so this idea that we somehow have to follow a bunch of rules to determine our eating is really inaccurate. So for you, Matt, think about somebody you personally know who doesn't struggle with food, who doesn't diet to manage their eating. And my guess is that this is a person who probably eats in a fairly balanced way. They don't make foods good or bad, they eat what they like, but they won't binge on something just because they've blown it. They don't have cheat days, they don't have on the diet off the diet days, they just eat. And for me, that was a huge ah-ha, to realize that at one point we were all born with the ability to manage our eating this way and that I needed first to relearn how to do that. And now I've spent the rest of my career teaching other people how to do that again too.

Matt Feret (07:01):

Well, you asked me to imagine that person. I couldn't, I could think of my kids and I could think of others who, I dunno, what's the excuse with kids? They have a high metabolism or they're outside riding their bike or running all day and we are sitting in our desks, typing on our computers and sitting in our cars commuting places. Is there a piece to that too, or is that, gosh, such a-

Dr. Michelle May (07:27):

Complex mean physical activity? Yeah, physical activity is part of it, but here's the problem, and you'll have to tell me if this is true for you, but a lot of the people that I work with exercise as punishment for eating, they use exercise to earn the right to eat. They use exercise to punish themselves for eating something that they shouldn't have. And so that's not what kids are doing. Kids are playing, they're living their lives, they're growing, they're exploring, they're having fun. And so oftentimes what's happened for many adults is diet culture, which is the culture that we live in that teaches us that we are out of control around food, that we need to follow specific rules about food and exercise. And that thin is always better, and all you need to do to get thin is eat less and exercise more. That's diet culture in a nutshell. Well, none of that really is working very well. I mean, like you said, it's hard to even think about somebody who manages their eating effortlessly anymore because we're so immersed in diet culture that we don't even realize that that's not a normal way of eating. That is a manufactured way of eating that has become so common that people think it's normal.

Matt Feret (08:54):

Wow. Yeah, you're blowing my mind here. I agree, and I hear you. You're still blowing my mind because I'm sitting here personalizing this going. Yeah, it's a diet culture. You nailed it. Even going back into, I mean, alright, let's stay with me for a second. I swear I won't make this all about me.

Dr. Michelle May (09:13):

No, that's okay. It's a great way to understand what we're, because everybody eats and everybody has a way of making decisions about eating, and so it's helpful.

Matt Feret (09:24):

Okay, so, growing up, clean your plate.

Dr. Michelle May (09:26):

Yes, yes. That's what I got. Okay, so think about this. Our parents were raised by parents or grandparents who lived in a time when food was very scarce, when food was not available on every corner 24 7, you had to prepare it. It was a big deal. There was even a time when they were sending food to the soldiers in the war and you had to be very, very careful about how you ate and eat all that you could, et cetera. Well, that is not the culture that we live in anymore. We live in an abundant food environment, yet that unconscious message about clean your plate to get dessert or there are starving children in, fill in whatever country, including the United States by the way. There is literally a scarcity mindset that teaches us to eat everything that we can or have available yet. Portion sizes are usually double or triple what we actually need. And food is available most of the time for most of us, or many of us I should say. And so that unconscious belief that I have to eat everything I'm given or I have to clean my plate, I mean, I even had some sort of funny things that I became aware of as I started doing this work for myself. The rows of Oreos had to be even. Where does that come from?


So you're using a really good example of how mindfulness can help. So mindfulness, I'll call it mindful eating instead of an approach because that's really what it is. So mindfulness is about bringing awareness and purpose to what I'm doing. So it's eating with intention and attention, so intention and attention. So if I am applying that idea to eating, my favorite intention is to feel better when I'm done than I did when I started. I want to feel better when I'm done eating than I did when I started. So that actually really suggests a lot of information. For example, first I want to be hungry. When I'm hungry, I don't feel my best, my energy is low, I might be a little cranky, I might be making mistakes. My stomach's growling when I eat and I eat with attention, awareness, then I eat just the right amount of food until I'm feeling good again and I stop before I cross that little invisible line back into discomfort. A lot of people spend a lot of time on either side of that line, that discomfort area, they're either ignoring hunger or trying not to eat because maybe they're intermittent fasting or something, or they're on the other side of the line where they've eaten too much food and now they're uncomfortable. Bringing awareness to your eating really helps you solve a lot of problems with without having to weigh, measure count, log track, pay penance for it.

Matt Feret (12:54):

That makes sense. So, alright, I'll do it again. I don't like breakfast. I like breakfast once or twice a week, maybe on a weekend when it's a kind of a bigger breakfast later on in the morning, that seems to fly in the face of what a lot of people say. Again, going back to childhood, breakfast is the most important time of the day, of the day and you've got breakfast and you've got lunch, and then you've got dinner and you even mentioned dessert and it seems as if that's just been pre-programmed as to there are certain times of the day to eat and certain times of the day to not eat. But I don't really like breakfast and then I eat lunch and dinner, but sometimes I get a little hungry after dinner, then they say don't eat after eight. These markers in life. Is there really a way to, is that all correct? Is breakfast, lunch, dinner a correct thing?

Dr. Michelle May (13:49):

No, it's conventional wisdom, right? Again, it's another example in this case, not just diet culture, but culture in general. And it's interesting because it also flies in the face of the current popular dieting pattern, which is intermittent fasting, in which case you don't eat breakfast. And so what's happened is there's all of these outside in rules about what we should do. So the pattern, the approach that I use, the model that I use is called the mindful eating cycle. And it looks at all the different decisions around eating. Most of our decisions are not actually decisions, they're just unconscious habits, patterns, rules that we're following. So what we want to do is bring consciousness. So one of the reasons the decisions is when am I going to eat? And that's what you're touching on here with this question about breakfast. So diet rules will tell us you have to eat breakfast or you can't eat after seven o'clock at night, which is bizarre because in medical school I never heard that your metabolism shuts off at 7:01, right?


The rule, the diet rule is there to stop people from eating in the evenings after they've already had dinner and they're just watching TV and eating for no reason. And so it works as long as you're on the diet, but you can't stick to these rules indefinitely. So as soon as people go off the diet, they go back to eating after seven o'clock because they never figured out why they were doing it in the first place. So when we're using rules to manage our eating, it is by definition temporary and diets are temporary. They don't last. They're unsustainable. They require too much time and energy and effort. They actually contradict each other all the time. I mean, when I started dieting, it was all low fat. Now of course, that's out of fashion now it's all low carb, right?

Matt Feret (15:56):

Everybody's putting butter into their coffee.

Dr. Michelle May (15:58):

Yeah, right? I mean, okay. I mean it's not even common sense really. So when we move away from outside in rules to inside out awareness, we begin to become more conscious. So if you don't eat breakfast or don't like to eat breakfast, the first question I would ask you is, well, are you hungry? And ignoring it, you said like, but are you actually hungry or not? If you're not hungry, there's really no harm in waiting for a while to eat. The second question I would ask you is, well, why aren't you hungry? Because breakfast literally means to break the fast. Are you fasting at night? Are you eating in the evenings or eating big meals at night? Are you slamming down a bunch of coffee in the morning? And if the answer to all that is, yeah, well whatever, maybe it's just you and it's not a problem as long as you feel like you're functioning well without breakfast.

Matt Feret (17:02):

I do feel, and you're right, I do slam an insane amount of coffee in the morning. Maybe that does it. So go back to the feeling that you get because that really resonated with me. You go from famished or even just hungry or the dinner bell, there it is, the culture piece, the dinner bell rings or the camp triangle and it's time to eat. And if you don't feel like it, you're going to eat anyway. Or if you do feel like it, you might overeat. What is the feeling that you're supposed to have leading into an eating situation and what is the feeling you're supposed to have on the outside of that?

Dr. Michelle May (17:38):

Okay, well, I don't like supposed to’s, I don't like should’s. I don't like goods and bads. I'm kind of a middle of the road person. I'm not in the extremes anymore. I don't know if you know this Matt, but the name of my company is, Am I Hungry? So that's the key question you're asking, the first key question. So whenever you feel like eating, the first thing to do is pause for a moment and check in and ask yourself, am I physically hungry? Am I physically hungry? Now, this is the equivalent to me of driving down the freeway, seeing a gas station and checking your fuel gauge before you pull off to fill up. I mean, you wouldn't stop at every gas station you see. You'd always check your fuel gauge first to decide whether this made sense right now or not.


It's the same thing. The dinner bell rings the triangle, somebody dings the triangle or you feel like eating, pausing for a moment and checking in and saying, okay, am I physically hungry? Is a good way to know whether this is actually a need for fuel or some other reason for eating like the environmental trigger or the timing or something like that. So how do you know? Well, the simplest way to know is two things. Your stomach is empty or becoming empty and your blood sugar is falling. And so when your stomach is emptying, you will be more aware of the contractions of the stomach. So your stomach is always contracting and when there's food in it, you don't really feel it so much, but when it's empty, it feels like gnawing or grumbling or growling. And so you become aware that your stomach is empty or hollow.


Some people may get other symptoms as well. Your blood sugar is, or your blood glucose, either word is the same, even if you don't have diabetes, your blood glucose naturally goes down and then goes back up again. When it's drifting down, you start feeling low energy, maybe irritable, maybe we call that hangry or cranky, not what my husband calls it, but you know what I mean, right? Hangry. Yeah, hangry. And you might be making mistakes, you might have difficulty focusing you, you're your thoughts of eating become really persistent. And so those symptoms of an empty stomach and a falling blood sugar are good ways to know that your body is needing fuel. It's basically your fuel gauge. Now there's biochemical things going on in the background, ghrelin, leptin, cholecystokinin, other kinds of things, but we don't easily identify what those are. So I stick with noticing those physical symptoms of your stomach and your blood sugar.

Matt Feret (20:49):

Okay, so with that approach then, sorry to make it pause there. Normally when people say I'm starving, I obviously physically starving. At least I hope they're not. But that's usually when you're, your stomach's growling and you're getting a little cranky or all of a sudden you're getting a little short on your conference calls or whatever you're doing. Is that just hunger? You're not really starving because anything prior to that doesn't really sound like you're hungry.

Dr. Michelle May (21:20):

So one of the tools that we use to help people re-engage with hunger- babies just know, little kids they know, we know they're getting cranky, they're irritable, they're throwing tantrums. We can tell when they're hungry for whatever reason. We can't tell that that's what's going on when we are doing it. So one of the tools that we use as a hunger and fullness scale, and just because your questions are awesome, and I'd love for it to be really practical, if you don't mind, I'll teach you basically what the hunger and fullness scale is.

Matt Feret (21:54):

Oh I’d love it, please. And thanks for the compliment by the way.

Dr. Michelle May (21:56):

Yeah, yeah. So the hunger and fullness scale goes from one to 10. So one is a little number that means your stomach is small, you're not full, it's empty. 10, the bigger number, is your stomach is as full as it can be. And we've all been there, right? That's Thanksgiving full, that's Super Bowl party full, right in the middle is five, which is neutral or satisfied. So if you check in and you feel like eating and you ask yourself, am I hungry and you're not, your stomach isn't growling, your stomach isn't full, that would be a five, a four, which is moving down toward an empty stomach would be what we would call hunger pangs. Like, “Hey, hey, pay attention.” You're going to need to eat soon. You don't really need to eat right then, but it's a good time to start planning your break or putting your dinner in the oven or whatever it is you need to do. So you can eat if for whatever reason that is a convenient time for you to eat, just remember you're only a little bit hungry, so you really only need a little bit of food, perfect time for a snack, for example.


Then if you progress down that hunger and fullness scale to a three or even a two, that's when you're hungry. I mean, you are really hungry by the time you're in that range, by the time you get to a one, you're famished. And here's the problem. By the time you're famished, it's not just that your stomach is growling and empty, but your blood sugar is low. Well, your brain uses blood sugar or glucose for energy, and by the time you're so hungry that you're feeling like you could eat the chair you're sitting on, you're not going to make great decisions. You're maybe not going to want to eat the lunch you brought. You're going to want to go out with your buddies to lunch and get some fast food or whatever. I mean, I don't have a problem with fast food, but I'm just saying you're going to go for what's convenient and yummy and then you might eat it too fast and you might eat too much, and then you end up on the other side of the hunger and fullness scale where you feel too full.


So here's something to remember. When you're really, really, really hungry, it doesn't mean that you need twice as much food as usual after all the size of your stomach didn't change. It's just empty at that point. It just means you need to eat soon. So for people who have difficulty with this, they need to start taking food with them or having a package of almonds on them so that they can eat if they start getting overly hungry or planning their day better so that they have breaks to get food so that they're not constantly swinging between being too hungry and too full. Does that make sense?

Matt Feret (25:01):

Oh, it makes a lot of sense. Yeah, it's don't get yourself to a one if you can help, but even if you do, then don't order the quarter pounder, order the regular with fries.

Dr. Michelle May (25:12):

Yeah, yeah, exactly. So it's going to happen sometimes. I mean, sometimes there's a wait at the restaurant or sometimes you get tied up or busy or you have plans with somebody. Sometimes you're going to get overly hungry. Just remember that. That doesn't mean I need to eat more than usual, it just means I need to eat soon.

Matt Feret (25:36):

Okay, thank you. On the other side of that, let's go after eating, if you don't mind. Can we go there? Sure.

Dr. Michelle May (25:41):

Yeah, absolutely.

Matt Feret (25:43):

I love pepperoni pizza. I think a lot of people do, and I like more than one piece and it makes me feel good while it's going in, but then I get that's, that's the one food for me that makes me go 20 minutes later. I go, “Ugh,” and I feel like I want to take a nap no matter what time of day it is. And that's I guess constant. It's not, I've always thought, yeah, I've eaten too much, but it's also the fat, the cheese, the bread, all the things that the conventional diet say are naughty in bed. Is it that or is it what I think it is? And what you're saying is, man, you can't eat four pieces. I mean you can, but you're going to feel lousy. That's really it. If I just ate one or is it the speed at which I'm eating or is it because I like it? How should my brain think about it?

Dr. Michelle May (26:29):

I love, love, love this because what you're demonstrating for all of us is curiosity. This is exactly the point of mindfulness. I'm not going to sit here and tell you how many pieces of pizza you should eat, Matt, that's not my business. That's your body's business. What I want to teach you is how to know how many pieces of pizza you're going to eat at any given time. And that is something that is within your ability to know. If you get out of habitual patterns of every time I order a pepperoni pizza, I eat four pieces or the other thing that happens, and I don't believe in good and bad foods, and we should talk a little bit more about that, but I don't think there's anything wrong with pepperoni pizza unless it makes you feel horrible. But for most people, it is the amount they're eating, not what they're eating that really affects them.


So for pepperoni pizza, for example, if you are hungry, let's say that you're a two or a three when you start eating, remember that's pretty hungry. You might from experience know that a couple of pieces is going to get you to about a six. Let's say for example, which is just over full. You feel the food in your stomach, but you're not so uncomfortable, so full or lethargic that you don't even want to function for the next couple of hours. So you will eat consciously, mindfully tasting, slowing down, enjoying it because after all, pepperoni pizza is great. So why do we eat it while we're working or why do we eat it fast? Why do we eat it while we're distracted and then not even enjoy it and we don't notice how full we're getting? And you mentioned the 20 minutes, and that's important because there is a delay between the time you stop eating and how full you feel because it is not just how much food you put in your stomach.


There's biochemical things that happen after eating that take a little bit of time. So slowing down when you eat will help you catch up to the fullness feeling and it will help you enjoy the food more, and it will remind you to check in again before you have the third or maybe the fourth slice because after all, once food is not forbidden, once it's not good or bad. And when your intention is to feel good when you're done eating, you start to think it's not about being good and eating the right amount of pizza. It's about feeling good. I don't want to feel bad after I'm done eating. I've had two pieces. I feel pretty good. I could easily eat another piece or two, but I'm going to wait a little while, see how I feel in 20 minutes. If I'm still hungry, I'll have another piece. If I'm not, I have lunch for tomorrow.

Matt Feret (29:29):

That is a mindset change for sure. So I see it. I hear it. So you're saying there's a chance. No. So you're saying you really have to methodically in your own brain, get out of pizza bad, broccoli good.

Dr. Michelle May (29:59):


Matt Feret (29:59):

That may be true. Yet that's limiting. And then you also have to think about don't let yourself get down to one or two. But even if you do, there's a planning or a habit that you have to develop of, oh, I'm hungry. I don't need to eat four pieces of pizza, but let me just go with one, see how I feel. Do you want to have another go for it, but see how you feel after you have that second one or even halfway through the second one. It's a very aware approach or self-aware approach. That is definitely a mindset change for well diving for me for sure. And I'm sure a lot of other people, did I accurately get that piece of leading up to it?

Dr. Michelle May (30:46):

Yes. I think you did remember when I was talking about the mindful eating cycle blueprint, the decisions that we make. We talked about when you eat, we talked a little bit about how to decide. We've also talked about how much, how to decide when to stop, and I think the good food, bad food topic is really important because it's so embedded in diet culture that we don't even realize how badly it backfires. So that's the what decision point. What am I going to eat? So the idea that we make foods bad then we're not going to want them is just fallacy. It just doesn't work that way. And telling somebody that something is good or good for you doesn't particularly make you want to eat it. Instead, what it does is it puts certain foods up on a pedestal. So if I've got pepperoni pizza up on the pedestal and broccoli is down here, I've given them literal weight that causes me to think, oh, I shouldn't eat that. Oh, pepperoni pizza, bad me bad for eating it, right? I'm going to avoid it. I'm going to avoid it. I'm going to avoid it. And then when stress and cravings for pepperoni pizza and hunger or maybe a football game all collide, then I start eating it and I think, oh, I really shouldn't be eating this. This is bad. I'm bad for eating it. I'm not going to eat it tomorrow. I better eat it all so I won't have to be tempted by it.

Matt Feret (32:20):

Are you in my brain right now? Are you in my brain?

Dr. Michelle May (32:24):

Well, I had that brain at one point in my life, so I am kind of in your brain. I hear this a lot from people, and we have this unconscious conversation with ourself that actually ends up causing us to eat more of the pepperoni pizza than if we had just said, it's pepperoni pizza. I love it. So I'm going to eat it in a way that actually shows I love it, and then I'm going to love how I feel afterward, which probably means stopping after two or three pieces, not four. That process is all taking place inside, and at first it's a bit of work. I mean, at first it's such a mind shift change that it does require some coaching, some awareness, some tools, which is why we use tools like the Hunger and Fullness scale, but eventually it becomes totally natural the way that it was when you were born, and you don't have to think about it all the time. You go back to being a person who eats instinctively, knows when they're hungry, eats what they love, stops when they feel satisfied, and then they go and use the energy to live their life. They're not worried about burning calories, they're not thinking about their next meal or when they're going to eat this, that, or the other thing, because they trust their body to let them know.

Matt Feret (33:52):

This sounds so much better.

Dr. Michelle May (33:54):

Oh, it is.

Matt Feret (33:58):

Tell me a story about someone and nameless, faceless, if you want make up their name. Tell me about someone, about your normal client, your normal patient that comes in. I don't know, someone like a guy I know who might be talking right now. Tell me a typical story. How long does this take? Are others worse at it or some worse at it than others? It take, do people fail at it? Tell me what does this take? What does the process look like to change this mindset?

Dr. Michelle May (34:28):

Yeah. Well, first of all, I don't do it in a physician's office. I coach people like this on Zoom. I work with people directly. We teach workshops, we offer retreats, and like I said, I train other people to do it. So the idea is that we want it to be as widely accessible to people as it possibly can be, because it literally not just sounds better, but it is so much better and it's sustainable. I know a lot of your audience is my age, I'm 60 or older, and one lady that I was working with, I was teaching a workshop in a retirement community and we were in probably the third or fourth workshop, and she stood up and she leaned over the table and she said, why didn't anybody teach me this 50 years ago? She felt like she'd wasted 50 years of her life obsessing about what she should and shouldn't eat, binging when she finally ate what she wanted and feeling guilty when she did.


And so that's the story that I come into all the time. Most of my clients, so most of them have yo-yo dieted, they've been on and off diets or even just restrictive thoughts or plans. Sometimes it's for health, sometimes it's for other reasons, but they're, well, think about a yo-yo a yo-yo doesn't stop in the middle. You're either on the diet, going off the diet, getting ready for the cruise, on the cruise back from the cruise, right? There's no middle. And so of course, you don't ever come to a place that's sustainable. So for people like that who have been yo-yoing forever and think they just haven't found the right diet or more often they think there's something wrong with them that they haven't been able to stick to it. Even though the science shows us that the vast majority of people cannot stick to a diet indefinitely.


It's just not the way they're designed. And so we will switch the whole paradigm from a yo-yo to a pendulum. So sometimes you might eat less, sometimes you might eat more, but there is a middle in the pendulum and the less energy you give to restrictive eating or dieting, and the less you're using food for all kinds of emotional reasons and habits, we haven't even talked about all that, right? Yeah. Then pendulum, yeah, that pendulum starts to slow down and it finds a smaller arc in the middle where you're in charge of making decisions for yourself instead of trying to control yourself and then losing control. When you're in charge, you're making conscious decisions. You know what? I could eat another piece of pizza, but it's Sarah's birthday and we're going to have cake and ice cream in a few hours, and I think I'm going to pause here and decide what I want to do.


That's kind of the process. How long it takes is going to depend on a lot of things. It's different for every individual. It depends perhaps on how deeply flawed their relationship with food is, how much they believe diet, culture, and how much they believe themselves to have failed. You cannot fail mindful eating because it's not a tightrope like a diet. It's a big wide path. There's plenty of room, and when you make mistakes, let's go back to the idea that you've eaten four pieces of pepperoni pizza. Well, instead of failing or instead of messing up or going off the diet, you just feel full. Do you remember the old commercial? I can't believe I ate the whole thing. That's regret. There's no guilt there. That's regret. I wish I hadn't done that. I feel overly full in that case, instead of eating the fifth piece because you've already blown it, you say, you know what? I wish I hadn't eaten that much. I feel really full. And then you wait. When do you get hungry again? What are you hungry for then? And the next time you have the opportunity to eat pepperoni pizza, you remember, oh yeah, the last time I had that fourth piece, it tasted so good. But that fourth piece was the difference between feeling good and feeling horrible, and I think I'm going to wait on that this time. You can learn from your mistakes when you're not constantly falling off the tight rope.

Matt Feret (39:15):

What if you have, or what if someone has a significant amount of weight to lose? And again, there's normalized. Well, your metabolism slows down and then you read an article. No, it doesn't. Well, I'm older. It's harder to lose weight now what do you think? You had 30 or 40 or 50 pounds to get off and diet isn't your answer. It is mindfulness. How does that relate to, let's say, a significant amount, whatever that is in anyone's brain, how does that factor into your approach?

Dr. Michelle May (39:54):

Well, I'm not a weight loss doctor or even a weight loss. I'm not here to promote weight loss, and here's why. Your body instinctively does not want to lose weight to your body. Losing weight seems dangerous. It feels like starvation. It feels like the berries have dried up and the buffalo have wandered off and there's a long winter coming.

Matt Feret (40:21):

The winter has set in.

Dr. Michelle May (40:22):

Right, the winter is coming. And so the body has all kinds of protective mechanisms that when you restrict your eating, intentionally eat less than you're hungry for or eat foods that aren't satisfying to you, your body sets off this whole chain of events that actually is counterproductive. This is why people weight cycle, along with yo-yo dieting, they lose weight. Losing weight isn't the hard part. It's keeping it off because losing weight can trigger this whole cascade of physiological changes. So what I try to get people to do is set aside the weight issue for now, just put it over here and let's focus on what we're actually in charge of, which is our eating and our physical activity and our self-care. Let's focus on when we're eating, what we're eating, how we're eating it, how much we're eating, and where we're investing the energy. Those are the decision points that are in the mindful eating cycle. Let's focus on those because those things I'm actually in charge of, and then let's let the body take care the weight for you. And it will.


Some people think they need to lose weight, but they've been the same weight more or less for 40 years, which tells me that their body thinks that they're at a pretty good size. Some people have been over restricting their diet and their weight is below what their natural weight might be if they were actually feeding themselves according to their body's needs. Maybe they're doing that for cultural reasons or appearance reasons. Some people, they're not paying any attention to these things, and their weight naturally drifts down to a place that is sustained by eating when they're hungry and stopping when they're full. But I can't predict what is going to happen in your body. But what I do know is that what most people are doing is not working. It's not working. And what we need to do is start getting to a place where we are in a more middle approach rather than the extremes of undereating, than binging, and then going back on a diet and then overeating.


This cycle that people have been doing for years and years and years is not healthy. And in fact, it is counterproductive. It is not good for our health and our wellbeing, so let's stop making it so hard to manage our eating and find a way of really doing this in a sustainable way. And by the way, if you have diabetes or some other condition, it's even more important that you find a sustainable way of managing your eating. People will say, oh, but I shouldn't eat X, Y, Z. Oh, really? Because that's not what's happening. You're not eating X, Y, Z until you do, and then you can't stop, and that's not working either.

Matt Feret (43:35):

The piece of entrenchment, I guess the food pyramid, the way we were raised, you go to school, right? You've got breakfast before you're sent out the door, or you get it at school, and then you get lunch at school and then it's dinnertime. It seems to me that's a cultural thing, and I want to juxtaposition that or compare that with what we hear about some of the western European countries. Why are the French so thin? Why do they not have the weight issues? And everybody goes, oh, they smoke two packs a day, but I've been over there and they don't look like we look in the United States. In your experience, is that a cultural thing? Do they have, what you're talking about is eating what they want, but in just a different way than we do, and is that part of the way that culture is from baby until death, or is it just, what is it? Is there a compare and contrast with a country like that very similar to ours in terms of socioeconomic opportunity, food scarcity or lack of food, scarcity? Is a cultural piece really that big or is it not?

Dr. Michelle May (44:51):

Things have changed a lot since the myth of the thin French people. I mean, things are evolving. I think this is a really complicated issue. As you mentioned at the beginning, we're much more sedentary as a culture, as adults. We're much more sedentary, many of us anyway, except those of us who've fallen in love with pickleball, which is probably half your audience, right?

Matt Feret (45:16):

Exactly. Yes.

Dr. Michelle May (45:17):

It is.

Matt Feret (45:19):

I'm still looking for a pickleball coach if anybody wants to come on the podcast to tell me exactly what it is between the difference of ping pong and tennis. But please continue.

Dr. Michelle May (45:28):

Yes, yes. Well, for some reason or other, it's one of those things that many of us have fallen in love with, so we're more sedentary. We have a lot more processed food, we have a lot more readily available food. We as a culture, drink a lot of energy through sodas and other types of drinks. So there absolutely is an energy intake difference. But the other piece of this is that as a culture, we have been dieting for decades, and I believe that if we could actually separate dieting from what's been happening in our culture, I think we would be able to research and prove that actually dieting is one of the reasons that we're in the situation that we're in now, that restriction of whatever the diet looks like, and it changes all the time, which still doesn't seem to make any difference. That restriction leads to feelings of deprivation, it leads to cravings, it leads to eating, overeating and binging, and then it leads to compensatory restriction again.


And all the time this is happening, the body is thinking, oh my gosh, there's not enough food. Oh wait, there's food. Oh my gosh, there's not enough food. Oh, there's food. Our bodies have evolved to literally through many, many, many centuries have evolved to be efficient when food was scarce, and then to store it and have it available for later. And all this restriction and dieting that people have done, I think has backfired. I think it's one of the factors that is contributing to the challenges that people have with their eating and their bodies. That was not so much the case in France. I mean, they have always valued thinness, and there's always been an approach to eating less than Americans do in general. But until the last couple of decades, they didn't have a food pyramid. They didn't make foods bad and good the way that is starting to happen, and it's spreading all over the world.


I mean, I mentioned I train health and wellness professionals. We've trained people in 35 different countries now to offer these programs because this is a problem that is not just American anymore. It is around the world. And again, I don't need to repeat, but the truth is that we have never had more diets than we have now. We've never had more information available to us than we have now, and it's not helping because it's taking people further and further from their instinctive ability to listen to their body and trust their signals, to let them know when they need food, when they've had enough to eat what they love, eat it in a way that shows that they love it, and then to move on and go play pickleball when they're done. I mean, it sounds too simple to be true, but the truth is that this is how we were all born to be and we just need to find our way back there. And that's what I'm on the planet to do is to guide people there.

Matt Feret (48:52):

I love it. How do I start researching this? You said earlier in the show you type in diet in the old search bar, it's going to come up with a million results and a million different plans. That's not what to type in the search bar. How do I start doing research on this and where do I start? You have a book, you mentioned that. Yes. Where do I start with this? Just in general.

Dr. Michelle May (49:15):

If you want to learn more about it, go to amihungry.com, and on that very first page down at the bottom, you can download the first chapter of Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat for free, and it will show you that mindful eating cycle, and it will describe an overeating cycle, a restrictive eating cycle, and an instinctive eating cycle. And in that one chapter, you are going to easily be able to identify which cycle you're in or cycles, because most of us vacillate back and forth between restrictive eating and overeating. So it's a really good way to see this makes sense to you if it resonates for you. You can also search mindful eating online, but I want you to be careful because mindful eating has been co-opted by diet culture, and so if you see things on a mindful eating article that say, chew every bite 32 times, be very mindful about what you eat, or you have to eat in silence. That is not mindful eating. That is mindful eating FULL, and that's just another symptom that diet culture is taking. Anything that we can try to do to help people heal their relationship with food and turn it back into rules again.

Matt Feret (50:39):

Thank you. What questions about this topic did I not ask that I should have?

Dr. Michelle May (50:44):

Well, you asked a lot of great questions and you demonstrated for us curiosity. That's really the difference between diets and mindful eating is we are going to try with the best of intentions to try to learn how to do this for ourselves inside out. So using curiosity, awareness, non-judgment to learn more about what we do and why, and some of those childhood messages and unconscious habits that we have. We didn't talk about emotional eating, but noticing that you're eating because you're stressed or bored and realizing that food does make you feel better for a little while, but ultimately stress means you need to get some balance or you need some help or you need a break. Boredom means you need something to do. When we eat to try to meet all these other needs, we're asking a lot of food, which is why it takes so much food when we begin to use our wisdom to notice that, oh, stress means I need something else and learn how to do that instead of always reaching for food, not only is food no longer an issue, but we are actually living the big, vibrant life we craved and thought we would get if we could finally stick to the stupid diet.

Matt Feret (52:06):

I love this message. I'm glad you talked about emotional eating and stress eating, because I think that's a lot of what goes on work stress, home stress.

Dr. Michelle May (52:16):

Have me back on. We'll have a whole show just about emotional eating because it's a big, big topic.

Matt Feret (52:23):

I will, and I can't wait to do it. Michelle, thank you so much for being on.

Dr. Michelle May (52:27):

My pleasure. It was really nice to talk to you, Matt.

Matt Feret (52:30):

Same thanks.

Matt Feret (52:37):

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