What’s the Difference Between Mindful and Intuitive Eating?

Have you ever heard the phrase “mindful eating”? IFIC’s 2023 Food and Health Survey found it to be the second most popular diet or eating pattern in the U.S., with 17% of Americans saying they followed it in the last year. But what about “intuitive eating”? This eating style is often used interchangeably with mindful eating, but are they really the same? In this article, we’ll review the difference between mindful eating and intuitive eating to help you determine which one—if either—is right for you.

Mindful Eating

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Mindful eating is all about awareness and intention. The core of this healthy eating strategy is to slow down and be fully in tune with all the tastes, smells, and textures of the food in front of you. Here are some quick tips for helping you eat more mindfully:

1. Turn Off or Silence Your Devices
Even when eating from home, turning off or silencing your phone and notifications on your other screened devices can help minimize distractions that take you out of the present moment with your food. Strive to take time to relax, focus, and enjoy your meal without technological interruptions.

2. Take a Moment To Clear Your Head
Appreciate the history of the food that’s in front of you. It takes a lot to prepare and produce what you’re about to eat. You could even consider everything that went into making your meal; for example, the warm climates that helped grow your produce, or the care you put into cooking it.

3. Use Your Senses
Mindful eating involves all five of your senses. Try taking note of the appearance, aroma, textures, flavors, and even sounds of your food.

4. Name the Flavors
As you eat your meal or snack, consider which of the five basic tastes you may be experiencing. Are you picking up notes of umami, bitter, sweet, salty, or sour? A combination of these? And can you tell the differences between them?

5. Notice the Texture
Is the bite crunchy or creamy? Is it dry or moist? Paying attention to the texture of each bite you take may help make your eating experience feel more intentional—and satisfying.

6. Set Down the Fork
After those first gratifying bites, try placing your utensils down on your plate to help slow your pace. Mindful eating is about cultivating an experience, not running a race!

So those are some tips on how to practice mindful eating. But what about intuitive eating?

Intuitive Eating

Intuitive eating is a weight-inclusive, self-care-focused eating framework that includes ten principles ranging from rejecting a diet mentality to respecting your body to exercising in an enjoyable way. Intuitive eating, more than mindful eating, encourages us to challenge the rules we may have in our minds around food so that we can develop interoceptive awareness—basically, the ability to listen and respond successfully to our bodies’ actual needs. For example, you may have heard you shouldn’t eat after 8pm, but some nights you don’t get home from work until very late. Should you skip dinner? Of course not!

Intuitive eating also encourages us to focus more on our hunger cues. One way to tune in to our hunger cues is to use a hunger scale. Before eating, rate your hunger on a scale of one (extremely hungry) to ten (overly full). Then, check in with yourself mid-meal and rate your hunger again. If you are around a 6 (satisfied), consider saving the rest for later.

Intuitive eating operates on the idea that we, as individuals, know what foods will make our bodies feel best—and typically, those are the same nutritious foods the Dietary Guidelines for Americans advise us to eat. The difference is that intuitive eating advises us to use our instincts and physical and mental cues to decide when and how much food to eat. The more we get “in tune” with these cues, the better we become at choosing foods that are both nourishing and satisfying.

In Summary

A good way to remember mindful eating versus intuitive eating? Refer to these quick insights:

  • Mindful eating is about practicing awareness and intention while eating.
  • Intuitive eating is a weight-inclusive, self-care-focused eating framework that includes tenets of mindful eating but also includes principles around exercise and body respect.
  • It’s possible to practice mindful eating without practicing intuitive eating, but it’s not possible to practice intuitive eating without incorporating mindfulness.

You may be trying to decide which of these dietary practices—mindful eating or intuitive eating—is best for you. But one great aspect of both these eating styles is that they can be used together—and they complement each other well. While there are many ways to eat healthfully, if you choose to employ strategies from both or either of these dietary patterns, you’ll have many resources to help improve your relationship with food and build healthier, long-term eating habits.