Mindful eating vs. dieting

As our society moves faster and faster, our tendency to seek instant gratification intensifies. So when you hear that something as seemingly simple as mindful eating actually takes time and practice and patience, it’s easy to say, “Well, forget it then.” Especially if managing your weight is on of your priorities. But before you dismiss mindful eating in favor of yet another diet, consider this point/counterpoint:

Mindful Eating: Choose foods based on your personal tastes, what you’re in the mood for, and how those foods make your body feel after you eat them (i.e., energetic and not sluggish).
Dieting: Choose foods based on what’s “allowed” on your diet, regardless of whether you enjoy them or how they make you feel.

Mindful Eating: Eat when you start to feel hungry, but before you get ravenous.
Dieting: Eat when your diet tells you it’s time to eat, even if you’re not hungry yet, or are so hungry that you could eat the furniture.

Mindful Eating: Enjoy everything about your food while you’re eating it…how it looks, smells, tastes, how it feels as you chew it (crunchy, chewy or silky).
Dieting: Barely notice your food. When you’re “on” your diet, food just a means to an end (weight loss). When you’re “off” your diet, you eat mindlessly, plagued by guilt, unable to fully enjoy those cookies or that pizza that’s on your forbidden foods list.

Mindful Eating: Prioritize quality over quality. When you make a point of really savoring and paying attention to your food as you are eating it, low-quality, highly-processed food starts to lose its appeal.
Dieting: Prioritize attributes such as low-calorie/low-fat/low-carb, even if the food has an ingredient list that read like a chemistry experiment. Eat quickly and mindlessly enough and you won’t notice that it tastes like cardboard.

Mindful Eating: Stop eating when you feel satisfied and no longer hungry, or when the food isn’t tasting as delicious anymore.
Dieting: Stop eating when your plate is clean, even if you aren’t satisfied and are still hungry (or are overfull, during times when you are “off” your diet).

Mindful Eating: At the end of a meal, sit back and think, “That was delicious, and I feel just right.”
Dieting: At the end of a meal, look down at your plate and wonder where the food went…and what it tasted like.

Mindful Eating: Say “no” to food because you’re not hungry or the food doesn’t look very tasty. Feel comfortable with your choice.
Dieting: Say “no” to food because it’s not on your “approved” list of foods and you’re trying to “be good.” Then, spend the next hour obsessing about how good the food looked and how deprived you feel.

Mindful Eating: Over time, you develop an innate sense of what foods make you feel vibrant and healthy, what portion sizes work best for you, and how frequently you need to eat to feel energetic and avoid getting too hungry.
Dieting: Have been on so many diets that you have no idea what to eat, or how much, or at what times, unless someone tells you. When you are dieting, you often feel hungry and tired. When you aren’t dieting, you often feel out of control, which leads to guilt when the weight you lost on your previous diet comes back.

Mindful Eating: You overeat sometimes because the food is the most amazing thing you’ve ever tasted. You undereat sometimes because the food is so-so or you just aren’t that hungry. You realize that your hunger levels and food needs can vary from day to day, so most of the time you eat the amount that’s just right (we’ll call you Goldilocks).
Dieting: You overeat sometimes because you’ve been feeling super deprived on your diet (and you can’t face one more carrot stick), or because you get so hungry that you can’t help yourself. You undereat sometimes because you are sticking to calorie limits imposed by a diet guru who has never met you, or because you were “bad” yesterday, or because summer is coming and you are afraid to look in the mirror when you shop for bathing suits. Rarely do you eat an amount that’s just right for you.

Mindful Eating: When your only food options are neither delicious or nutritious, you don’t freak out. You are mindful about the fact that this isn’t optimal, but you make the best choice possible, and eat just enough to satisfy your hunger. You know there will be plenty of better meals in your near future. It’s simply not a big deal
Dieting: When your only food options are not diet-friendly, you panic. You either skip that meal, and end up cranky, hungry and in danger of overcompensating at your next meal. Or, you eat what’s available to you, quickly and mindlessly, then add on dessert since you’ve “blown” your diet, anyway. This leads to an “anything goes” mindset for the rest of the day…or weekend (tainted by feelings of guilt and failure).

Mindful Eating: “Wow, I really want a cookie. A chewy, gooey chocolate chip cookie, with a little bit of crispy around the edges. Oh, hey, someone left some snickerdoodles in the break room. Maybe I’ll just have one of…no, I want chocolate chip. And these snickerdoodles came from a grocery store bakery. At  lunch, I’ll take a walk to that tiny bakery down the street. They know their way around a chocolate chip cookie.”
Dieting: “Wow, am I thirsty. I’m going to stop in the breakroom to get a glass of water…hey, COOKIES! Oh…snickerdoodles. Not my favorite, but…COOKIES! [Chewing] mmph, they’re okay. I’ll take one more back to my desk…or maybe three. It’s so bad of me, I’m totally blowing my diet…but they’re COOKIES!”

Mindful Eating: When you eat something that, in retrospect, didn’t taste that great and makes you feel kind of icky (possibly because you slipped back into mindless eating habits), you reflect with an attitude of curiosity. “Hmmm…I was a little tired and stressed, maybe that has something do do with it. Next time, I’ll be more aware. Yeah, the frosting on that cupcake was pretty gross…and the cake part was totally dry. Oh, well, live and learn!”
Dieting: When you eat something that wasn’t on your approved foods list and makes you feel kind of icky (honestly, you really don’t remember what it tasted like, but you think it wasn’t very good), you kick yourself to the curb. “What is wrong with me?! I am a total loser! A loser with no willpower! I’m going to look gross in a bathing suit this summer.”