Mindful eating. Intuitive Eating. You hear it all the time but unsure what it means. Both are similar in ways but also different in others. First and foremost, neither are a diet approach. Intuitive eating is an eating style that promotes a healthy attitude towards food and the connection to food and your body image. It helps teach you how to get in touch with your body cues with hunger, fullness, and satisfaction. Doing this will also help you learn to trust yourself around food again, not looking at something is good or bad. The idea with intuitive eating is that you should eat when you’re hungry and stop when you’re full. Sounds simple, right? Often, we let emotions get in the way of our true hunger cues, or we have allowed so many diets out there telling us how and when to eat we forget to trust our body as well as its intuition.
To be able to eat intuitively, you will need to refocus and relearn how to trust your body again as we had when we were younger. For us to do that, you need to distinguish between your physical hunger and your emotional hunger. What is the difference?
- Physical hunger cue is your body’s single urging you to replenish nutrients and refuel. It builds gradually and has different signals, such as a growling stomach or stomach pain, starving feeling, fatigue, headache, or irritability. The signals will disappear when you eat any food.
- Emotional hunger cue is driven by your emotions. Triggered by sadness or depression, loneliness, or boredom. These types of signals usually are the feelings that can create specific cravings for food, typically comfort foods that bring you a quick sense of happiness only to leave you in the end with feelings of guilt and self-hatred. (1)
Try to get in tune with your different hunger cues and learn how to recognize if you are truly hungry or emotional hunger. Did you know it could even be as simple as you are dehydrated? Sometimes masked as feelings of hunger, your body might be asking to be hydrated and need fluids. Try having a glass of water to see if the desire disappears.
Another way of intuitive eating is the feeling of fullness. Often at times, “dieting” causes us to feel like we “have” to eat at certain times of the day or within a window or eat a certain amount of calories/macros with each meal, which makes leaving food behind difficult. Listen for signals that tell you that you are starting to feel full and satisfied. When eating, take time to pause partway through eating by drinking some water and check in with your body. How full do you feel? Are you getting close to feeling satisfied or near 80% full? Be more conscious and aware of each meal. Remember to stop eating when you are satisfied or at least 80-90% full as it takes a moment (typically 20-30 mins) for your brain to connect with your body to signal it is full.
To be a better intuitive eater, try to reduce on being what they call the “Food Police,” with thoughts that are mainly in your head that declare something “good” or “bad” when eating. Yes, eating a salad for lunch is healthier due to the nutritional value, but because you ate carbs or a sugary item with the does not declare it bad. These are the unreasonable rules that were created by dieting that cause you to feel guilty. It’s impossible to view eating as healthy or pleasurable when acting as the food police with everything you eat. Changing the way you look at food is an essential step towards becoming an intuitive eater.
Lastly, eating intuitively is coping with your emotions without the use of food. We talked about this earlier during the emotional hunger cues, but emotional eating is a common problem. Trust me; we have all been there at one time or another. We often eat for reasons other than physical hunger and use food to cover unpleasant feelings and emotions. While the food at times certainly can be used to soothe or cope with emotions, it can cause other problems as it typically does not work to fix the problem and acts only as a coping mechanism. Anxiety, loneliness, boredom, and anger are emotions we all experience throughout life. Unfortunately, food will not fix any of these feelings. You will have to reprogram yourself and learn to find other ways to deal with your emotions that will comfort, nurture, distract, and help resolve your issues or feelings.
Now let’s discuss Mindful Eating. In today’s fast-paced society that tempts people with an abundance of food choices and busy schedules and distractions, we have shifted attention away from eating and enjoying your meal to now eating in front of televisions, computers, at your desk at work, and smartphones. Unfortunately, it has become the norm of a typical daily routine. Mindful eating is a technique that helps you gain better control over your eating habits.(2)
A great way to describe Mindful Eating is from the Center for Mindful Eating, which defines Mindful Eating as “allowing yourself to become aware of the positive and nurturing opportunities available through food selection and preparation by respecting your inner wisdom.” “Using all your senses in choosing to eat food that is satisfying to you and nourishing to your body and becoming aware of physical hunger and satiety cues to guide your decisions to begin and end eating.”
Below are some tips on being more of a Mindful Eater:
- Eat slowly and without distraction. Make sure you eat slowly, chewing every bite and move away from the computer or desk when enjoying your meal.
- Listen to physical hunger cues and eat until you’re full. As we talked with Intuitive Eating, make sure only to eat when you are truly hungry and stop when you are satisfied at 80-90% full.
- Engaging your senses when eating. Make sure to take time and enjoy every bite in your meal. Smell the amazing aroma, see how great your meal looks, and enjoy the taste of your food.
- Learning to cope with your emotions like guilt and anxiety about food.
- Eating to maintain overall health and well-being. Eat to fuel your body for energy and nutrients but not our of boredom or emotions.
Bottom line, both Mindful Eating and Intuitive Eating, have been shown to promote weight loss, reduce binge eating, and help you feel better. Both styles of eating are a powerful tool to regain control of your eating and help you be able to pause. If conventional diets haven’t worked for you, this technique is worth considering. What do you think?