Dr. Michelle May, a self-confessed "recovered yo-yo dieter" now runs a successful business teaching people "mindful eating" as a more effective way to lose weight than dieting.
Special to AFN

After Dr. Michelle May and her husband, Owen, decided to re-carpet their Ahwatukee home earlier this month, the necessity of moving furnishings from six rooms provided unexpected inspiration for May’s Mindful Eating Newsletter on her website, AmIHungry.com.

The article, which she titled “Out with the Old, In with the New,” brought a fresh perspective to a topic so many perpetual dieters dread: New Year’s resolutions.

For 18 years, May, a “retired” medical doctor and self-proclaimed “recovered yo-yo dieter,” has overseen the Am I Hungry? Mindful Eating Programs and Training. It began as a local business and now includes hundreds of licensed facilitators in 25 countries.

She also teaches “mindful eating” at Arizona State University, where she is an associate professor.

As in many of her newsletter columns and online blogs, May, the mother of two grown children, Tyler and Elyse, addressed her readers by using her personal experiences to offer encouragement.

“After raising two kids and two puppies in our home, it was definitely time for new carpeting,” her column began.

She admitted she had “underestimated the size of the project,” which required removing the entire contents of the family living room, two offices, two bedrooms and her master closet and cramming them into the dining room, kitchen and hallways.

“It was overwhelming to see all our stuff piled up like that, but we decided that it was the perfect opportunity to decide what we really wanted to put back in,” she wrote.

“I carefully considered whether each piece of clothing, furniture, knick-knack, and folder was really serving us. Many things had been in place for so long that we didn’t notice they weren’t working for us anymore. While it was a bit disconcerting to finally get rid of things that we’d lived with for a long time, it felt good to create space for what we really wanted,” she wrote.

That experience segued into New Year’s intentions.

“That’s what I like about the New Year, too. While I refuse to participate in the whole resolve-to-diet-and-lose-weight thing, I love the opportunity to take stock of different areas of my life,” May wrote.

“At the beginning of the year, I consciously evaluate what’s working and what’s not, set a fresh intention to create the life I want, and decide on a few focus areas that will bring me closer to that intention.”

For many people, going on a new diet at New Year’s really isn’t new. It’s déjà vu. It’s like rearranging decades-old fireplace mantel bric-a-brac. People repeat eating habits like resisting certain foods and then overeating when willpower gives out, or feeling guilty about eating what you consider “bad,” or feeling bad about yourself when the new diet doesn’t work.

May doesn’t like to speak of diets, or even weight.

“I’ve come to feel our culture’s obsession with weight is compounding the problem,” she said. “Our work with Am I Hungry? is primarily around behavior and lifestyle change. Mindful eating isn’t based on record-keeping, deprivation, or willpower. Instead, you learn how to use your awareness of your physical sensations, thoughts, and feelings to guide your eating, physical activity, and self-care. Most people unconsciously repeat old patterns, which is why they keep getting the same results. Mindful eating is an inside-out approach.”

May and Am I Hungry? were encouraging mindful eating long before “mindful” became possibly the decade’s most overused adjective.

Her book, “Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat: A Mindful Eating Program to Break Your Eat-Repent-Repeat Cycle,” was updated in November 2017. She has added three more books to the series, specifically for people with diabetes, people with binge eating disorder and students in college. Her next book is for athletes and will be released later this year.

Her books are available at amihungry.com/marketplace, along with items such as “motivational companion cards” (52-card deck) and the “Am I Hungry? Mindful Eating Virtual Coach App.”

To date, Am I Hungry? has trained more than 700 facilitators, therapists, instructors, and coaches worldwide.

Locally, Chandler resident Dawn Hopkins is a mindful eating program facilitator who joined the organization in 2006 as one of the initial trained facilitators.

The former owner of Curves in Ahwatukee became acquainted with May’s program four years earlier when she attended an eight-week workshop series.

“To say that the program changed my eating behaviors and my relationship with food is an understatement; it changed my life,” Hopkins said. “What I discovered was that I was a chronic restrictive eater who was longing to be free.”

Hopkins owns Tempe’s Inspiritus Yoga, formerly The Living Well Centers.

Hopkins, a former long-time Ahwatukee resident whose children attend Horizon Honors Secondary School, said her experience led her to become a facilitator so she might share the freedom of foregoing dieting and instead eating mindfully.

“Being a part of Am I Hungry? means never having to say the word D-I-E-T again,” she said, laughingly spelling out the four-letter word. “We often say ‘If the urge to eat doesn’t come from hunger, then food will never satisfy it.’

“Through the eight-week workshop series, people learn about themselves, and over time, they heal their relationship with food and their bodies,” she added. “They learn mindfulness strategies that can then be applied to every area of their lives. I’ve seen hundreds of people heal, find freedom and transform in ways I can’t begin to describe.”

In February, May is facilitating a three-day Mindful Eating Weekend Intensive in Phoenix, her first local event in nearly a decade.

“Facilitating retreats like this is one of my favorite professional activities because I get to witness profound transformations in a very short period of time. Participants who’ve struggled with their eating for many years learn a whole new way to relate to food,” she said. “It’s humbling to realize your work is changing lives.”

The Am I Hungry? Mindful Eating Weekend is Feb. 16-18 and will be held at the Liberation Center, 650 N. Sixth Ave., Phoenix.

Health professionals may earn 12 continuing education credits.

Information: amihungry.com/eat-mindfully-live-vibrantly-retreat/.

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