Mindful Eating as a Weight-Inclusive Practice

Author: Dana Notte, MS, RD, CD

Repost from Food for Thought 2020

It’s no secret that intentional pursuits of weight loss are generally ineffective. The vast majority of people who lose weight through any non-surgical weight loss intervention will regain nearly all of the weight they lost within five years, while many will regain even more (Mann, 2007; Tomiyama, 2013; Siahpush, 2015). In all the years that researchers have been studying how to produce sustainable, long-term weight loss, they have yet to find an effective method. One could posit this is partly because weight is simply not something within our direct control. 

It is understood that genetics plays a significant role in determining individual body size (Elks, 2010). In theory, other factors that may also impact weight, such as food decisions and physical activity, are personal choices within one’s control. Still, realistically, the numerous social inequities that exist in society make these choices inaccessible to many. Moreover, our body possesses sophisticated defense mechanisms that fiercely protect against weight loss (Mann, 2018; Mclean, 2011). In addition, the persistent pursuit of weight loss can significantly and negatively impact well-being by promoting disordered eating behavior, worsened body image, and other forms of physical and psychological harm (Crow, 2006). 

Mindfulness—the present moment, non-judgmental awareness of thoughts, feelings, and experiences—allows us to recognize both the futility of these weight loss efforts and the harm or suffering they ultimately cause. It also serves as the foundation of an alternative approach to traditional interventions for those who express weight and food concerns. 

Mindful eating is a practice that is often presented as the “non-diet” antidote to weight worries and woes. Indeed, mindful eating holds tremendous potential for helping individuals heal their relationship with food and body (Alberts, 2012). However, mindful eating is not a weight loss intervention, and positioning it as such is in direct conflict with the spirit of mindful eating

This position of mindful eating as a weight loss tool assumes that the body is a problem. It isn’t. However, the immense pressure that is placed on individuals to achieve and sustain unrealistic body ideals at any cost certainly is, and those expectations can lead to a tremendous amount of personal dissatisfaction and pain. It also assumes that weight is within one’s control and that dietary intake is the only, or at least the most significant, factor in determining one’s body weight. This is also false, but the belief that it is true can lead individuals to feel defeated and inadequate, contributing to even more suffering and pain. Mindfulness is a practice that helps us find release from suffering, not exacerbate it. Therefore, using mindful eating as a weight loss intervention is not only based on flawed assumptions, but it’s also inconsistent with the very practice of mindfulness.

Moreover, deliberate pursuits of weight loss involve attempting to control energy input and output through external means, such as restrictive calorie goals and prescriptive diet and exercise guidelines. The intent of these self-imposed rules is to willfully ignore and disregard our body’s internal cues. On the other hand, mindful eating is an internally-directed practice that includes being aware of and responding to hunger and fullness cues while also honoring personal food preferences. Mindful eating is intended to support us in working with our bodies rather than fighting against them. It is also intended to help us learn how to best meet their needs rather than aiming to control their size.

That is not to say that weight doesn’t change or won’t change when one adopts a mindful eating practice; it might. Our bodies are constantly changing, and mindful eating is not anti-weight change. However, mindful eating used in the service of weight loss is not really mindful eating at all; it’s just another diet. This becomes immediately obvious upon further inspection of any “mindful eating for weight loss” intervention, which is really just another set of rules, a “how-to” guide for doing mindful eating “right,” which, again, is inconsistent with mindfulness. 

The chart below summarizes the differences between mindful eating in a true sense of the practice, which encourages non-judgmental awareness of thoughts, feelings, experiences, and sensations surrounding food, and weight-normative weight control practices, which position weight and weight loss as essential for supporting health and well-being.

Mindful eating practiced in its truest sense is inherently weight-inclusive. According to the Association for Size Diversity and Health (ASDAH), weight inclusivity means accepting and respecting the inherent diversity of body shapes and sizes (i.e., accepting what is) and rejecting the idealizing or pathologizing of specific weights (i.e., without judgment). 

Mindful eating honors and respects the uniqueness of all individuals and the innate wisdom that all bodies possess. While not a weight loss intervention, it can pave the way to finding a more peaceful and positive relationship with food and one’s body through increased trust and awareness and less judgment and criticism.  Ultimately, mindful eating allows individuals to recognize how to best meet their right-now needs, nourish and care for their right-now bodies, and support their right-now health and well-being. 

TCME’s weight-inclusive approach is aligned with the new HAES®️ principles:

  • Healthcare is a human right for people of all sizes, including those at the highest end of the size spectrum.
  • Care is fully provided only when free from anti-fat bias and offered with people of all sizes in mind.
  • Wellbeing, care, and healing are resources that are both collective and deeply personal.
  • ⁠Health is a sociopolitical construct that reflects the values of society.
  • To learn about these principles and the HAES®️ Framework of Care, please refer to ASDAH.

Dana Notte, MS, RD, former TCME board member, dietitian in private practice at ThrivInspired Nutrition in Burlington, VT, and part-time faculty at the University of Vermont. 

She is an experienced non-diet dietitian, Certified Eating Disorder Specialist, and Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor who is passionate about helping people cultivate a balanced, peaceful, and healthful relationship with food and body. She specializes in working with young adults and adults seeking support to heal from chronic dieting, disordered eating, and eating disorders. 


Alberts, H. J., Thewissen, R., & Raes, L. (2012). Dealing with problematic eating behavior. The effects of a mindfulness-based intervention on eating behavior, food cravings, dichotomous thinking, and body image concern. Appetite, 58(3), 847-851.

Crow, S., Eisenberg, M. E., Story, M., & Neumark-Sztainer, D. (2006). Psychosocial and behavioral correlates of dieting among overweight and non-overweight adolescents. Journal of Adolescent Health, 38(5), 569-574. 

Elks, C. E., Den Hoed, M., Zhao, J. H., Sharp, S. J., Wareham, N. J., Loos, R. J., & Ong, K. K. (2012). Variability in the heritability of body mass index: a systematic review and meta-regression. Frontiers in endocrinology, 3, 29.

Mann, T. (2018, May). Why do dieters regain weight? Retrieved from: https://www.apa.org/science/about/psa/2018/05/calorie-deprivation

Mann, T., Tomiyama, A. J., Westling, E., Lew, A. M., Samuels, B., & Chatman, J. (2007). Medicare's search for effective obesity treatments: diets are not the answer. American Psychologist, 62(3), 220.

MacLean, P. S., Bergouignan, A., Cornier, M. A., & Jackman, M. R. (2011). Biology's response to dieting: the impetus for weight regain. American Journal of Physiology-Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology, 301(3), R581-R600.

Siahpush, M., Tibbits, M., Shaikh, R. A., Singh, G. K., Kessler, A. S., & Huang, T. T. K. (2015). Dieting increases the likelihood of subsequent obesity and BMI gain: results from a prospective study of an Australian national sample. International journal of behavioral medicine, 22(5), 662-671.

Tomiyama, A. J., Ahlstrom, B., & Mann, T. (2013). Long‐term effects of dieting: Is weight loss related to health?. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 7(12), 861-877