Mindful and Intuitive Eating: The Perfect Pair

You may have heard of “mindful eating” a hundred times before. But what does it mean? The term “intuitive eating” gets bounced around a lot too, but are they the same? What’s the difference, and more importantly, why should you care?

In the hustle and bustle of the real world, we get so caught up in the desire to lose weight, gain muscle and just look better that we often forget about the importance of a healthy relationship with food. Restrictive diets tell us “don’t eat that” or “only on cheat days.” It’s easy to fall into a pattern of shame and guilt when we inevitably break these food rules. Also, with our busy schedules and competing priorities, we may forget to examine why, when, and how much we eat.

Both mindful and intuitive eating have a role in a healthy diet and relationship with food. It’s important to know what these practices are, how they are different, and the steps you can take to implement each one into your everyday life.

Mindful Eating

Mindful eating is a bit of a buzzword in the health world. As people drift away from fad diets and calorie restrictions (freedom!), they look for a way to enjoy their food without gaining unwanted weight and mindlessly overeating. Mindful eating can be looked at as a way to enforce awareness. The core of this healthy eating strategy is to slow down and be fully in tune with all tastes and textures of the food at hand. For instance, breathe deeply between bites and notice different tastes and textures of the dish. Bringing full awareness to your meal requires putting away technology, turning off the TV and truly enjoying each bite.

A 2013 issue of Today’s Dietitian stated that “mindful eating is being used as a tool to improve eating behaviors, encourage weight control, prevent chronic disease, and foster a healthy relationship with food.”

Use these words to describe components of your next meal:

Texture: crunchy, moist, grainy, dry, tough, creamy, tender
Flavor: sweet, salty, sour, bitter or umami*
*Umami is used to describe foods that are savory

Intuitive Eating

Intuitive eating differs from mindful eating because it is about the when, why, and how much of food. The concept of intuitive eating urges individuals to listen to natural hunger cues that the body gives. These natural hunger cues should lead you to eat only when you feel hunger, stopping when you are satisfied, and not relying on outside indicators to tell you when you should eat.

Habit is often a reason why we eat, such as, “I always have a snack when I get home from work.” Intuitive eating does not give in to habitual and mindless eating practices. Instead, intuitive eating focuses on the core reasons why we eat: hunger and nourishment.

A Perfect Pair

You may be trying to decide which practice—mindful or intuitive eating—is best for you. The great thing about these healthful tactics is that they can be used together, and they complement each other well. When both strategies are used, you can find peace in all aspects of eating.

Choosing when, where, and how much to eat (sometimes daunting tasks) can become less stressful as you transition away from habitual ways of thinking about eating. Both mindful and intuitive eating are great practices to improve your relationship with food and build healthier eating habits.