Mindful or Intuitive Eating?
Knowing what and how to eat has become so confusing with so many mixed messages – low carb and high fat (keto), low carb and high protein (paleo) or other such variations such as Pioppi , which sounds ‘healthy’ and ‘Mediterranean’ in origin but with higher fat and lower starchy food, it is more Keto in actuality. This may leave you thinking – ‘I thought too much fat was ‘bad’ and carbs ‘good’ or ‘healthy’– perhaps you’ve got it wrong? Diet culture or diet mentality encourages avoidance and restriction based on whether a food is ‘bad’ or ‘good’, which may cause episodes of eating or binging on foods and then feelings of failure, shame or guilt. Following any diet, whether ‘fasting’ or even more universally accepted traditionally healthy diets such as the Japanese, Norwegian or Mediterranean diets may result with you losing the connection with your body.
- Do you know when to stop eating based on your body’s needs?
- Do you know what foods your body needs?
- Do you still recognise hunger or the difference between fullness, hunger and satiety? You can still be hungry or satisfied but not full or satisfied but still hungry!
- Or are you eating for physical rather than emotional reasons? A little emotional eating is normal but if it feels unbalanced or out of control, it’s probably one of your main coping mechanisms.
If your answer was ‘No’ to most of these questions, then Mindful and Intuitive Eating may be for you.
There is a great over-lap between the two. Both programmes seek to change lifestyle behaviour. In my opinion, the biggest differentiator is that Mindful Eating uses meditation and Intuitive Eating uses a more ‘cognitive behaviour therapy’ worksheet approach to cultivate awareness for a more positive relationship with food, activity, mind and shape. Meditations and cognitive worksheets are both simply an opportunity to pause, to make a different choice rather than reacting out of auto pilot (habit), stress or emotion. I see these approaches as complementary. My approach is grounded in Mindful Eating and I incorporate elements of Intuitive Eating because I recognise meditation is not for everyone. However, I still regularly use Intuitive Eating worksheets because I know that when someone has been following diet culture for a long time, it’s difficult for them to label and verbalise how they are eating, what their eating rules are or feelings, emotions and behaviours. Worksheets can help with this.
“I am a qualified Mindful-Based Eating (MB-EAT) Instructor but currently not offering the group programme because of time commitments. However, if you have a group of friends/colleagues and are interested and would like to meet weekly at an agreed time, please contact me. Mindful eating works well as a group because it creates a greater supportive connection with others. When I first got interested in Mindfulness and attended a Mindful Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) course, I realised, regardless of age, occupation, gender or ethnicity, we all have some kind of suffering in common.”
What is mindful eating?
Mindfulness is the capacity to bring full attention and awareness to an experience, in the moment, without judgment. Mindful Eating brings mindfulness to food choice and the experience of eating. It is about rediscovering the joy of food and reconnecting the ‘inner wisdom’ or ‘mind’ with what the needs of the body. It tends to have greater benefits beyond eating because it has its origins in Mindful Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), which was developed by Dr Jon Kabat-Zinn and is used to treat chronic pain and stress related diseases.
With the help of different mediations, you’ll become aware of:
- your thoughts (about the food, your body, or in fact anything else)
- your full senses – temperature, touch, smell and taste
- your physical feelings of hunger, fullness and satiety – these are unique to you
- your emotional feelings
What is intuitive eating?
Intuitive eating is based on 10 principles:
Principle 1: Reject the Diet Mentality
Principle 2: Honour Your Hunger
Principle 3: Make Peace with Food
Principle 4: Challenge the Food Police
Principle 5: Discover the Satisfaction Factor
Principle 6: Feel Your Fullness
Principle 7: Cope with Your Emotions with Kindness
Principle 8: Respect Your Body
Principle 9: Movement—Feel the Difference
Principle 10: Honour Your Health—Gentle Nutrition
In Intuitive Eating, there is more active direction such as -‘Reject the Diet Mentality’ and ‘Challenge the Diet Police’. It directly addresses rules picked up or made up; about what, when and how much to eat and exercise, as well as criticisms about your body and how you should look. The belief is that all these messages need to be recognised and challenged. Mindfulness is more about acknowledging and letting go.
As you can see, both get you to relearn how to trust your body to guide you with your eating by learning to listen to and honor its signals for hunger, fullness, satisfaction, water, movement and rest. With feedback, whether using meditation or worksheets, you can start to make choices that work for your body (and health) as well as your taste buds! Both address mindset; mindful eating does this gently through guided meditation and intuitive eating mostly through worksheets but also does encourage some mediation.
These approaches may not be suitable for those with an active eating disorder because they can lead to justification of undereating and can be harmful to those recovering from eating disorders and disordered eating. They are of limited use to people with Anorexia, because of their need for distraction from, rather than increased awareness of eating behaviours.
The benefits of mindful and intuitive eating
If you decide to walk away from diets and embrace intuitive and mindful eating, you won’t look back.
No more guilt, shame or bingeing!
When you truly give yourself allowance to eat what you want and when you want from physical place, rather than from an emotion, deprivation or restriction (using a calorie counting or fasting App), bingeing reduces or disappears because you are not going hungry. Rather, you are eating a variety of foods in moderation, according to your hunger and satisfaction cues, and accepting yourself as you are.
No more crazies – just clouds drifting across the sky!
You won’t be thinking about food from the time you open your eyes in the morning to the time you close them again at night. You’ll wake up with other things to think about, not whether you’ll fit into your clothes today, or beating yourself up for how you ate yesterday – or worried about how you’ll eat today.
You’ll think about food mostly when you’re hungry, or when you need to do the food shopping. Occasionally at other times your attention will be grabbed by thoughts of food, but you’ll have enough practice and experience at witnessing the thought, and letting it go, for it not to be anything more than fleeting.
And when you do sometimes eat for reasons other than hunger, you’ll let it go, like a cloud across the sky. Because you’ll know that everyone overeats sometimes. No big deal. You’ll move on quickly, and eat again when you’re next hungry.
Energy for other things … that you value or enjoy
With less energy expended on thinking and worrying about your body, weight and food, you’ll be freed up to create, participate in and enjoy life! Instead of making yourself go to the gym to do a hard workout, when you’re tired, you might choose a hot bath or walk, a yoga class – or meeting up with a friend. You might look at a restaurant menu with real curiosity about the options, rather than look for the option with the least carbs or calories.
“Before mindful eating, I realised I had a lot of rules, perhaps not a surprise – I am a dietitian! I can just look at someone and know their calories requirements and how to eat for it. My own realisation was – I ate regular meals and snacks and never felt hungry. I avoided fatty and sugary foods and saved them as treats. Now I tune into my hunger, eat less and less frequently but eat foods with more taste. Quality over quantity. With my dietetic hat on – I am actually still eating healthy because part of honouring your body is eating nourishing foods most of the time. The body does not feel nourished when it eats chocolate, crisps and donuts most of the time! It was fun learning this though and I am still mindfully losing the pounds I gained without focusing on my weight! Despite being a heavier but healthy weight – I have never been happier.”
Let ‘your’ body find its more natural, happy or healthier weight
I am a believer in health at every size (HAES). When you have poor health, it can feel like an uphill struggle and whilst you may be concerned about weight affecting your health negatively, you may also feel you do not have the mind space. With consistent practice of mindful and intuitive eating, your body will find its more natural, happy or healthier weight. That’s a weight which doesn’t take inordinate amounts of energy and mental focus to sustain. It’s a weight that allows you to feel at peace both with food and your body. It may not be the body of your dreams or best health, but if we are honest – your body dissatisfaction is almost certainly because of internalised cultural beauty standards – so perhaps it’s not the body of your dreams – but the body of culture’s or social media demand, which for almost all of us is either impossible to attain (due to genetics) or requires obsessive attention to what, when and how much to eat; and what, when and how much to exercise. If it’s not the body of health; at least there is acceptance of what you and your body can achieve. If you have chronic pain or a stress related disease, you may want to consider Mindful Based Stressed Reduction (MBSR) before mindful eating.