Conscious Eating Made Easy

Conscious Eating Made Easy

Conscious Eating

Many books have been written about eating with mindfulness, also called conscious eating or intuitive eating. Dr. Michelle May, author of Eat What Your Love, Love What You Eat, discusses eating with intention and attention: Eat when you’re hungry, eat what your body needs, stay focused on the food, eliminate distractions (like reading or watching TV) while eating, and pay attention to body cues of hunger and satiety. [from Stop Eating Your Heart Out, pp. 179-80).

Dr. May’s current article, “A Simplified, Actionable Nutrition Message,” epitomizes conscious eating made easy. It appeared in last week’s Huffington Post and she has given me permission to share it with you: 


A Simplified, Actionable Nutrition Message

Channel surf the national news in the morning and you're just as likely to hear someone telling you what you should or shouldn't eat as you are to hear a politician talking about what they think should be done about the latest world crisis. And like politics, nutrition messages vary by who is doing the talking. As a result, people often feel overwhelmed and confused by all the conflicting (and sometimes arbitrary) messages about what they are supposed to eat.

The key to a sustainable healthy diet is to balance eating for enjoyment with eating for nourishment. But how do you drown out all the confusing noise and figure out what to eat in your day-to-day life?

These three simple questions will help you make food choices that are satisfying and balanced: “What do I want to eat?” “What do I need to eat?” and “What do I have to eat?”

What Do I Want to Eat?

The first question, “What do I want to eat?” may come as a surprise. But what happens when you try to avoid food you really want?

I once tweeted, “How many rice cakes does it take to satisfy a craving for chocolate?” My favorite reply was “7…and a Snickers bar!”

Thinking about what you really want to eat without judging yourself will keep you from feeling deprived and out of control when you choose to eat certain foods. You might be worried that if you ask yourself what you're really hungry for, you'll always choose foods you “shouldn't.” First of all, I don't believe that there are any foods that you “shouldn't” eat. Second, depriving yourself only makes cravings grow stronger. Once you let go of the guilt about eating certain foods, they lose their power over you. If you don't give foods power, you don't need willpower anymore!

As you learn to trust your body wisdom you'll soon discover that you want to eat a variety of foods to feel healthy and satisfied.

What Do I Need to Eat?

The next question to ask yourself is “What do I need to eat?” While food decisions aren't “good” or “bad,” clearly some foods offer more nutritional benefits than others. As you consider what food to choose, ask yourself, “What does my body need?” Keep in mind the principles of variety, balance and moderation when deciding. Consider nutrition information, your personal health issues, family history, what else you will be eating/doing that day, and how your body responds to certain foods.

Enjoy your healthy options by focusing on fresh foods, appealing combinations, new flavors, and interesting recipes. And remember, not every choice must be nutritious. Healthy, balanced eating is simply the average of all of the individual decisions you make.

What Do I Have to Eat?

The key to the final question, “What do I have to eat?” is planning. If you feel hungry and the only thing available is a vending machine, you're likely to choose a snack food that may not be very healthy, may not taste very good, and may not be what you were hungry for anyway.

Instead, strive to have a variety of foods available that are healthful and appealing but not overly tempting. These are foods that you enjoy when you're hungry but won't be calling out to you from their storage place saying, “Come eat me!”

Of course, you're not always in control of which foods are available. At a restaurant, office, potluck, or friend's house, simply see what's available and ask yourself, “Is there a healthy choice that will meet my needs without leaving me feeling deprived?” For example, could you be happy with frozen yogurt instead of ice cream this time? If the answer is no, have the ice cream!

Let the experts argue among themselves. Choosing food you love while meeting your body's needs leads to greater satisfaction and more enjoyment.


~Michelle May, M.D., Author, Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat; Founder, Am I Hungry? Mindful Eating Workshops and Facilitator Training Program


Are you able to use these three questions to choose satisfying, nutritious foods for yourself? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

  1. “What do I want to eat?”
  2. “What do I need to eat?”
  3. “What do I have to eat?”

If you are challenged with emotional eating, Stop Eating Your Heart Out: The 21-Day Program to Free Yourself from Emotional Eating can help!

Donna Eden, David Feinstein

Wishing you healthy, enjoyable eating,

Conscious Eating

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Conscious Eating Made Easy — 29 Comments

  1. Great post, I love the questions and I can see how they would help me make better choices. Particularly around what my body needs and what I have available.

  2. These are all great questions, Meryl. It will help many make the right choices when it comes to eating. As they old saying goes: “You are what you eat!” Simple and true. I have my own regime and it works well.

  3. These are great questions to ask. If I find myself perusing the cupboards or fridge and I can’t decide what to eat – then my body is probably not really hungry and I am just ‘thinking’ I want to eat. These questions serve as great reminders to help maintain a healthy outlook on eating. Thanks for sharing this post!

  4. Merle, this is all great advice, especially the “eat it anyways” 🙂
    Hunger can be very powerful and cravings worse. I have a chart that tells you what your body is really telling you that you need when you crave certain foods. It really helps me. From now when I crave sugar, I eat protein and it stops the craving dead in it’s tracks! Thanks for this great article.

  5. There is a difference between physical hunger and emotional eating, stress eating, eating from boredom, or timed eating. I know it’s good practice to recognize physiological hunger by following these steps before you eat

    • Oh yes, Nate, I agree. And many folks don’t know how distinguish the different kinds of hunger!

  6. Love the part where she talks about not depriving yourself of food you love. The key is balance.
    Years of being a Chef, my biggest complaint with the consumer diet is that they don’t have a balanced meal. Even if you offer a balanced meal they will change it to fit their over indulgence of food.
    We need to eat less and move more. That is a fact.

    Great post! Thank you so much for sharing!

    • You’re welcome, Katrina. Yes, I also like the part about not depriving ourself…as long as we are moderate!

  7. I don’t think many people give any thought to what they put into their mouths. As an almost raw vegan, I find it hard to grab and go, so I have to ask all these questions when it is time to eat

    • Yes, Veronica, following a raw vegan plan really keeps you conscious of what you’re eating.

  8. Great information! I often don’t ask myself what I need to eat as much as what I want to eat. I need to start asking myself all three questions to decide what is best. Thanks for sharing!

  9. This is a wonderful way to look at what we eat. For me, it’s chocolate, the answer to all 3 questions! But seriously this might help me understand why I eat so much chocolate!

  10. Due to a chronic illness, my question is always What do I need to eat? Thanks for sharing a great post that makes it easier to stay on track, awesome tips!

  11. Great post on what do i have to eat…. sometimes we forget and just eat because….

  12. I like the questions you put in your article. I did a huge change a few months ago. Results: 25 pounds less and feeling so much healthier.

  13. Hi Meryl,

    I love that you included the first question, “What do I want to eat?”. When I was losing the my baby weight, not feeling like I could eat what I wanted really discouraged me. This is a great article. Thank you for sharing. 🙂

  14. This is a great article and really opens my eyes to my food wants, needs and haves. It particularly made me aware that I eat well and let me feel more at ease when I have to have my 2 cookies. 🙂

  15. I really like the concept of the three questions … seems they would lead to lowering the guilt levels that lead too many people to throw in the towel after making a mistake or two in their food choices. Very empowering!

  16. Great questions that most certainly will make us conscious of what we really want. I loved the part, “How many rice cakes does it take to satisfy a craving for chocolate?” My favorite reply was “7…and a Snickers bar!” Its the truth. Sometimes the substitution will make you eat way more than if you had a healthy portion of what you really want…

  17. Great questions to ask! I am very aware of what I need to eat but often what I want to eat leads in my decision. Of course, what I have to eat also plays a part. Plain Greek yogurt, frozen blueberries, vanilla protein powder, a little chocolate syrup with some chopped walnuts satisfies my sweet tooth and serves as my lunch many days. I used to crave ice cream but now I would really rather have my yogurt stuff and it is actually something good for me (except for the chocolate syrup.)