The Redesigning Wellness Podcast

025: Bringing Mindful Eating to the Workplace with Rebecca Johnson


Workplace wellness programs tend to focus on obesity and ways to get employees to lose weight. Unfortunately, many organizations rely on weight loss methods that don’t work and may reinforce restrictive eating, yo-yo dieting and ultimately, more weight gain.

As a dietitian who has spent years teaching groups and individuals how and what to eat, I got to see firsthand the many struggles people have with their weight. There were often tears in the sessions, as emotions always come up when talking about weight but yet we don’t address them in most weight management programs. Obesity is an emotionally charged and complex aspect of health and one that many want to distill into a conversation around willpower.

In this conversation, Rebecca and I talk about how she got her start into the health and wellness industry, how we can help push the wellness profession forward and the tenets of the Am I Hungry training.

Rebecca tells us a bit about her 20 years in health and wellness and how being open to new and interesting ideas has got her where she is (along with step aerobics).  She’s always been interested in what makes people tick, using a blend of health and psychology.

Ultimately, she felt a disconnect between her values, the research and what is happening in corporate wellness.

Conventional approach to weight founded on three major assumptions:

  1. Anyone who’s in the overweight/obese category of BMI need to lose weight.
  2. Weight management is a matter of energy balance and willpower.
  3. People who struggle with their weight need to follow external rules and guidance for diet and exercise.

This ends up translating to weight loss becoming a high priority in employee wellness programs. BMI is typically tied to outcomes which is a result of flawed assumptions. I talk about how I started an outcomes based BMI approach that I now regret.

Rebecca shares her thoughts on the outcomes based approach using BMI and Biggest Loser contests. She talks about the science that shows weight loss programs are not effective in producing sustainable changes.

Weight is a complex outcome of many different factors (not just energy balance and willpower). 90-95% of people cannot sustain conventional approach to weight loss.

The Am I Hungry? training was developed by Dr. Michelle May in 1999. The approach uses mindfulness for people who feel like their relationship with food is not serving them well. The training is delivered via training by health professionals, self paced online, and coaching.

Rebecca mentions the outcomes they’ve seen from the Am I Hungry training such as personal feedback, testimonials, renewed sense of being in charge of their inner state and weight loss for some. The most important outcomes are the powerful inside out changes. One organization measured pre and post psychological improvements.

Rebecca talks about the 3 tenets of Am I Hungry?

  1. taking a weight neutral approach
  2. a non-restrictive approach
  3. using mindfulness to address the root causes of weight

She explains what each of these tenets means and ends offering tangible tips for employers who want to address weight at the workplace.


White papers mentioned

Rebecca’s Bio:

Rebecca Johnson is a leader in the health promotion industry with more than 20 years of diverse experience in hands-on, management, and strategy roles. She currently serves as the Director of Workplace Wellness for Am I Hungry? Mindful Eating Programs and Training, where she oversees the implementation of mindfulness-based and weight-neutral programs in the corporate wellness arena. Independently, she provides coaching and consulting services for organizations seeking to leverage the powerful of organizational development and employee well-being to create a thriving culture.

Rebecca lives on the West Coast of Florida with her husband, Greg, and their four children. When she’s not working or spending time with family, she loves to read, enjoy the outdoors, listen to nerdy podcasts, and nurture her backyard full of plants and flowers.