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Eating mindfully: National speaker teaches F-M women to use 'intention and attention'

"Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat"

During her medical residency, Dr. Michelle May mindlessly turned to her favorite candy.

By the end of her first year, she says she'd gained 10 pounds from Malted Milk Balls alone.

May, now a motivational wellness speaker, wants you to ask yourself why you eat when you're not hungry.

"Everything starts with 'Why?' " the Phoenix-based author says. "We eat when we're sad, mad, glad, stressed or bored."

May makes her living helping people become aware of what's driving them to overeat and teaching them to "eat mindfully, live vibrantly."

The family physician was the morning keynote speaker at Mikey's Women's Wellness Expo, former North Dakota first lady Mikey Hoeven's 19th health conference, held Monday in Fargo.

Her session addressed the thought processes behind yo-yo dieting and methods for breaking the "eat, repent, repeat" cycle.

Ask yourself whether you're hungry, and if you're not, ask yourself what other need you're trying to fill and if you can fill it without food, she counseled.

In her book "Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat," May writes: "When a craving doesn't come from hunger, eating will never satisfy it."

Whenever you're about to reach for a comfort food or guilty pleasure (like Malted Milk Balls), ask yourself, "Am I hungry?"

Learning to listen to your internal - rather than external - cues will help you eat mindfully, a concept she teaches nationwide.

Sheryl Carriere of Middle River, Minn., said she related to much of May's presentation. "A lot of the times when I do overeat, I'm sitting in front of the TV."

As part of the session, volunteers handed out heart-shaped chocolates wrapped in gold foil like the one featured on May's book cover.

She used the chocolate in a "mindful eating" exercise, telling the more than 300 audience members to take three bites of the chocolate, focusing on a different sensation each time.

"Food that's special deserves to be eaten like it's special," said May, who founded the "Am I Hungry?" Mindful Eating Workshops in 1999.

Participant Carriere said the chocolate exercise stood out to her - not because she got to eat chocolate, but because it made her aware of her own eating habits.

May described mindful eating as eating "with intention and attention."

She said if you're going to have a brownie, go ahead and have a brownie, but know why you're eating it and savor it while you do!

"When I'm hungry, I'm going to eat that brownie if I still want it," she said.

The cognitive-behavioral expert said when weight first became an issue for her, she turned to dichotomous (all or nothing, good or bad, black or white) thinking.

"Instead of going back to instinctive eating, I started dieting," May said.

At the time, she thought about herself the same way she thought about food: as good or bad.

"Eating the right amount of food is not about being good; it's about feeling good," she said.

During her presentation, May explained the "six crucial decision points in your mindful eating cycle": Why? When? What? How? How much? and Where?

"If we approach eating with curiosity rather than rigidity, we have more freedom to learn," she said.

May helps her clients learn to trust that their bodies will tell them when they need to eat and to trust that they can make balanced decisions about food.

"Once you can trust yourself, you don't need to spend all your energy thinking about food anymore," she said.