5 Life changing lessons I learned from the Am I Hungry? Retreat

This summer I have been blessed with the opportunity to work for an organization called Am I Hungry? dedicated to empowering others to eat mindfully and live vibrantly. My boss is a lovely women named Michelle May, founder of Am I Hungry? and author of Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat. As part of my summer internship she invited me to come to the Am I Hungry? Eat Mindfully, Live Vibrantly Retreat at the Red Mountain Resort in Ivins, Utah.

Although I was confident the retreat would be a good experience, I was not quite sure what to expect. I hoped to gain some valuable work experience and enjoy the resort, but what I took away from the retreat was life changing. I left with a whole new understanding of my relationship to food, my body, and my life. The 20 inspiring participants in the retreat taught me that with courage, vulnerability, and dedication you can take charge of your life at any age.

So I’ve decided to dedicate this post to some of the life changing lessons I took away from this summer’s 2013 Am I Hungry? Retreat.

Lesson # 1 - Mindful eating is about awareness, not control

 I used to think if I could control what I ate and eat the “right” foods (low in carbohydrates, sugar, and fat) I would look and feel healthy. I’d go 5 days without sugar and on the 6th day I’d eat a box of cookies right before going to bed. For months I was caught in an endless of cycle of restricting (feeling in control) and bingeing (feeling out of control), because it was easier.

 Like me, many of the women at the retreat had tried dozens of different diets. And like mine, their diets would often last for months, weeks, or days, and usually end in a binge when they could not take it anymore.

Michelle taught us that mindful eating frees us from the need to micromanage when, what, how, and how much we eat. She explained how when we relinquish our control over food, we become mindfully aware of our options and choices. She taught that awareness does not tell us what we should and should not eat, rather it reminds us to listen to the wisdom of our bodies. Awareness allows us to pause and ask the question “Am I Hungry?” Awareness brings our energy towards the present moment so that we can eat mindfully and live vibrantly!

 Lesson #  2 - What you think about you bring about 

As humans we think thousands of thoughts every day, most without conscious awareness. At the Am I Hungry? Retreat, Michelle taught us a useful exercise to help us become aware of these thoughts. The exercise is called TFAR, which stands for
thoughts, feelings, actions, and results. The point of the exercise is to examine your thoughts and identify any ineffective thoughts you have. Once you become aware of those thoughts, the next step is to re- frame them with thoughts that will give you the results you want.

Here is an example from the retreat:

Problematic thinking
  • THOUGHT-I have no time to exercise
  • FEELING-I feel defeated
  • ACTION-I work more and don’t exercise
  • RESULT-I am out of shape 

  • Re-framed thinking

  • THOUGHT-Exercise is important to me. I can make time for things that are important to me.
  • FEELING-I feel motivated to schedule time to work out.
  • ACTION-I put aside 30-60 minutes in the day to exercise.
  • RESULT-I feel more energized, taken care of, and healthy. I seem to have more time in my day!

  • Completing this exercise reminded me that I have the power to re-frame negative thoughts and bring about positive results.

     Lesson # 3 - Sometimes you need to say NO to others, in order to say YES to your life 

     One of the biggest problems many of the women faced during the Retreat was the inability to say no. We get so accustomed to saying YES to our boss, our family, our partner, our friends, and our community, that at the end of the day we have NO time for us. The result? We have time for everybody else except ourselves! “When we are we always powering through life, we ignore what our body is telling us,” explained Michelle. We look strong on the outside, but on the inside we feel undernourished. While most of us can’t leave our families or work to go to a spa for a month, this five day Retreat proved that we can begin setting boundaries in our lives that will allow us to have more time to nourish our body, mind, heart, and spirit.

     Lesson # 4 - Your body can hear you 

    One of the most profound moments in the retreat happened on the second to the last day when we did an exercise called "Love Your Body.” Michelle asked us all to write a letter from our bodies to ourselves and instructed us to express our body’s feelings, thoughts, and needs. We had to shift the paradigm that we were separate from our bodies and accept that like us, our bodies need to be respected, nourished, and loved at every size and shape. 

    After completing the exercise one of the participants explained, “I just realized that I have been treating my body like my ex-husband used to treat me.” Michelle reminded all of us that “When we body-bash, our bodies hear us. We care for the things we care about.” I realize that in accepting my body, I allow my best self to blossom. (You'll find this and other activities in this free download that I helped Michelle create: FreeTreat- A week of Mindfulness Self-Care.)

     Lesson # 5 - Our vulnerability makes us beautiful 

    It’s incredible how much energy and time we dedicate in our life to hiding our imperfections. We spend so much time covering our flaws that we forget how naturally beautiful we are. Many of the women at the retreat, myself included, felt exhausted from the constant need to be strong all the time. Many of us felt that by sharing our struggles, our fears, and our deepest desires with others, we would be considered weak, insecure, or unattractive. But, Michelle challenged us to ask ourselves, “What am I hiding right now that could help others if I let it shine through?” She reminded us that we are all perfectly flawed and should not be afraid to let it show.

    Photo credit: Michelle May- Retreat participants 2013

     Whether or not you were able to go to the retreat, I hope that the lessons I gained from my time at the Red Mountain Resort will encourage you to start taking tiny steps towards living your best life. Everyone of us has the ability to choose to feel beautiful, healthy, and vibrant.

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