Mindful and Intuitive Eating: The Perfect Pair

You’ve probably heard of “mindful eating.” But what does it mean? The term “intuitive eating” is often interchangeably used, but are they the same? What’s the difference, and more importantly, why should you care?

Diet culture surrounds us whether or not we realize it, and it often encourages us to start a new diet or weight-loss plan, as if being smaller will automatically make our lives better. And the busyness of today’s world doesn’t make it any easier to cultivate a good relationship with our food. Usually, we’re left with inadequate time to plan, prepare and pay attention to our meals. So we do our best -- opting for the “healthier option” without considering whether or not we’re even hungry or what we’re actually craving. We follow rules about the timing and types of food we think we should be eating -- and it’s easy to fall into a pattern of shame and guilt when we inevitably break these food rules.

Enter mindful and intuitive eating. While different, both mindful and intuitive eating can help you get back to the basics of eating with intention sans anxiety or worry. Let’s examine what these ways of eating entail, how they are different and the steps you can take to implement each one into your everyday life (if you choose to do so).

Mindful Eating

Mindful Eating is not the same as Intuitive Eating. Eating mindfully is about awareness and intention. 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. Here are some quick tips to eat more mindfully:

1. Turn Off or Silence Your Devices
Even when eating from home, this can help minimize distractions. Take the time to relax and enjoy your food without all the interruptions.

2. Take a Moment to Clear Your Head
Appreciate the food that’s in front of you. It takes a lot to prepare and produce the food you’re about to eat.

3. Use Your Senses
Mindful eating involves all 5 senses, so take note of the appearance, aroma, textures, flavors, and sounds of your food.

4. Name the Flavors
As you eat your meal or snack, consider the 5 basic tastes and which you are experiencing. The 5 basic tastes are umami, bitter, sweet, salty, and sour. Sometimes foods contain more than one -- can you tell the difference?

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 more intentional.

6. Set Down the Fork
In between bites, place your utensils down on your plate to help slow your pace. Mindful eating is an experience, not a race! 

These tips can help you practice your mindful eating skills! So we’ve covered mindful eating, but what the heck is intuitive eating? Glad you asked.

Intuitive Eating

There are ten principles to Intuitive eating, but a major piece to it is rejecting the diet mentality, adopting an all foods fit mantra and honoring our hunger cues. Intuitive eating encourages us to challenge the rules we may have around food. For example, you may have heard you can’t eat after 8pm, but some nights you don’t get home from work until late. Should you skip dinner? Of course not!

Intuitive eating also encourages us to focus 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 (overfull). Check in with yourself mid-meal and rate it again. If you are around a 6 (satisfied), consider saving the rest for later.

Intuitive eating helps us to balance honoring our health with our food choices with being kind to ourselves if we overeat or eat indulgent foods. Intuitive eating operates on the idea that we, as individuals, know what foods will make us feel best -- typically those are the same nutritious foods the Dietary Guidelines for Americans advise us to eat. The difference is that intuitive eaters use their instincts to decide when and how much food to eat. The more we get “in tune” with our hunger cues, the better we become at choosing foods that are both nourishing and satisfying.

A Perfect Pair

You may be trying to decide which practice—mindful or intuitive eating—is best for you. The great thing about these eating styles 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 diet-influenced, habitual ways of thinking about eating. Both mindful and intuitive eating are great practices to improve your relationship with food and build healthier, long-term eating habits.

This post was written by Julia Dugas, dietetic intern at the University of Maryland, and Alyssa Ardolino, RD.