Have you been hearing a lot about mindfulness and mindful eating lately? If you haven’t, I’d be a little surprised because I’ve been running into it left and right. And you might be wondering, is intuitive eating the same as mindful eating?
I was recently asked to share some thoughts with U.S. News & World Report on the challenges of mindful eating. And as a whole I think it’s a good thing we’re talking about it, I’m all for it. But with so much information flying at us from all directions it can get a little confusing. So today I wanted to clear up a little of the clutter around intuitive eating and mindful eating.
What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness can be defined in many ways. But in terms of how it relates to eating, we can loosely define it as the practice of engaging all five sense to cultivate open-minded awareness of how the foods we eat make us feel (physically and emotionally). It’s so much more than simple slowing down and chewing your food for a really long time. Read more on mindful eating from a source I really trust HERE.
I’ve also written past posts about intuitive eating. Check out this post on What Intuitive Eating Is and Isn’t to read more on that. It’s a much broader philosophy that includes mindful eating as well as lot of other tools. It also fits under the bigger umbrella of Health at Every Size (HAES), body acceptance, respect, and trust.
Intuitive Eating vs. Mindful Eating
Pause for a moment and remember this is all about the grey. Meaning, there’s no black & white thinking here with an all-or-nothing, either-or approach. There are many, many similarities between intuitive eating and mindful eating and that was a little confusing to me in the beginning. As I got more familiar with each one, I started to see the nuance and subtle differences between them. Here are a few I think are important to point out:
In short: diets teach us to rely on external cues like meal plans, pre-sized portions, calorie/macro counting and tracking, and schedules for when to eat. Mindfulness and intuitive eating can both help us return to that intuitive state where our decisions about what, when, and how much we eat (among other things) come more easily. The irony is that with intuitive eating, you’re forced to really focus on those things and think really hard about it…quite the opposite of a truly intuitive state. BUT. But…with patience and practice, it gets so much easier and eventually you’ll realize you had a day when you didn’t obsess over every minuscule decision about food.
And that is part of the joy of food freedom. You’re free to focus on other things that matter.
So is intuitive eating the same as mindful eating? Yes and no…as it happens so much of the time with nutrition, the true answer is really, “It depends.”
You Can’t Mindfully Eat Your Way to Happiness
One of the more problematic pieces of the mindful eating “diet” is the idea that if you can engage in mindful eating, make it a habit, and stick with it that you’ll eventually lose the weight/find true happiness/love yourself and your body. And although this may sound a little cynical, that’s just not how it works. It works well if you have a diet to sell or a program launching that promotes mindful eating as a weight loss tactic. But here’s why I don’t believe you can mindfully eat your way to happiness.
- You can mindfully eat a meal you don’t enjoy. That, in my mind, is one of the biggest distinctions between intuitive eating and mindful eating. It is possible to sit down to a portion-controlled meal with foods you don’t particularly love and practice mindfulness techniques during that meal. But how satisfied would you be at the end of it? Intuitive eating encourages us to discover joy in eating and give ourselves the freedom and permission to find satisfaction in what we eat.
- Mindful eating can be hard to learn. It can be a frustrating process, as with anything new. And by opening curiosity and awareness, we might notice things that don’t make us particularly happy. Mindfulness helped me finally realize some of the foods I was eating (that I thought I genuinely enjoyed) were actually not that enjoyable. Case in point: Fiber One Bars. But it can also open the door to some uncomfortable feelings or emotions that we need to unpack in order to move past. For some of us, that can send us back to the familiar cycle of dieting if we aren’t feeling prepared or equipped to do that.
- Both intuitive eating and mindful eating are being hijacked by diet culture. *long exasperated sigh* This is disheartening on a lot of levels, but especially because I’ve seen the potential for both mindful eating and intuitive eating to do so much good..it’s disappointing to say the least when I see them being touted as a means of losing weight or as a new trendy diet. Because as we know, that rarely lasts and can ultimately send someone down the spiral of weight cycling all over again. That is to say, it might make us happy in the short-term but inevitably leads to frustration, sadness, or anger all over again.
So intuitive eating is what helps us reject diets for good, clear the diet mentality from our mind, and find peace with food. Mindful eating can help us get there. It’s one of many tools in the toolbox of a non-diet approach but it’s not the magic key that unlocks the door to food freedom.
There are a lot of similarities so it’s not about intuitive eating vs. mindful eating, but more about understanding how they can compliment one another to help you experience less judgment and guilt around food.
Have you tried incorporating mindfulness or intuitive eating? Has it been helpful for you? Leave a comment or share a story!
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And if you’re looking for more support for a non diet approach and intuitive eating, be sure to check out my Intuitive Eating Workbook. It’s full of resources and tools to help you kick the dieting mentality and find food freedom!
Be sure to check out our Frequently Asked Questions series where we tackle some of the most asked questions on the topic. Here are a few reader favorites: