Mindful Eating, Intuitive Eating + Weight Management
Today we’re talking about a topic that is often misunderstood in the nutrition community – intuitive eating and the sub-category of mindful eating.
Intuitive eating and mindful eating are dietary approaches that were created as a backlash to traditional diets to help people gain confidence and normalize their eating patterns. Some critics bash intuitive eating – calling it an excuse to eat whatever you want and claiming that it leads to an unhealthy diet. The truth is, while intuitive eating does allow for the consumption of all foods – even those that are objectively less nutritious – it is not intended to justify a poor diet.
WHAT IS INTUITIVE EATING?
Intuitive eating is an approach to nutrition where you listen to your body to help you decide what to eat and how much to eat instead of using food rules as your guide. This includes honoring food cravings and recognizing your hunger and fullness cues.
It’s a pretty simple concept – if you’re hungry for a particular food, you eat it – even if that food is typically considered a treat. When you’re no longer hungry, you stop eating. Unfortunately, it’s not always that simple in practice. Years of following society’s recommendations of what and how to eat and falling prey to fad diets has left most of us way out of touch with our bodies. Have you ever found yourself thinking any of the following:
- I really want a sandwich but I already had bread at breakfast.
- I didn’t work out today, so I shouldn’t have dessert.
- I can’t eat that cookie because I had a cookie yesterday, and I’m trying to watch my weight.
These are all maladaptive thoughts rooted in food rules and diet mentality. Do they help you manage your weight? No. Counterintuitively, research shows that they lead to greater preoccupation with food, over-eating or binge-eating, and negative body image.
INTUITIVE EATING AND WEIGHT MANAGEMENT
Intuitive eating seeks to correct these patterns of thinking. By allowing yourself the freedom to enjoy foods that are not necessarily the most nutrient-dense, but that provide other important benefits – like pleasure – food loses its power. In turn, you become less preoccupied with food and better able to regulate your intake and provide your body with the nutrients it needs to thrive.
It can be hard to wrap your head around at first but the gist is this – by allowing yourself to eat that cookie when you feel like it, you’re more likely to not eat a plate of cookies later and also better able to choose to not eat a cookie when you’re not hungry another time. This is because when you’re used to shaming yourself for wanting certain foods, you just want those foods more. It’s the ‘you want what you can’t have’ effect. Once you can have a food whenever you want it, it loses its power and appeal.
Again, it’s hard to believe this is true until you’ve experienced it yourself and also – it takes time. But once you get good at it, your body will end up craving objectively nutritious foods just as much as pleasurable foods. And even start to think of nutritious foods as pleasurable foods too! The goal of intuitive eating is to let your body be your guide.
TIPS FOR MINDFUL EATING
So now let’s talk about mindful eating – a type of intuitive eating. Mindful eating is a tool to help you reconnect with your body’s innate feelings of hunger and fullness. This is a skill we’re born with but we lose as we age and manipulate our food intake through food rules. If you’ve ever been on a diet where you had to track and limit your calories – that’s the opposite of listening to your hunger and fullness cues. Here are a few mindful eating tips to help you reconnect:
Plate your food.
Instead of stuffing your face straight from the fridge or munching right from the snack bag, take the time to put your meal or snack on a plate with proper utensils. This simple act is a symbol of respect for your meal and your body. And while you’re at it, make it pretty! Taking the time to style your plate can increase your appreciation of your meal and result in greater satisfaction.
Sit down. After you plate your food, take it to the table.
Not the couch, not the kitchen counter, not on a walk around the block – it’s not a dog. Sitting down at a table helps you to hone in on what you’re eating and your satiety cues.
I’m as guilty as the next person of grubbing in front of the tv or computer. But I’m telling you – it’s a bad habit. How many times have you sat down to watch a show with a bag of popcorn and before you even knew it, the whole thing was gone. That’s called mind-*less* eating. If you’re focused on Netflix, you’re not focused on your food and you’ll miss your fullness cues.
Slow down. It takes your brain 20 minutes to register fullness.
If you scarf down your meal in 5 minutes, you’re still going to feel hungry even if you’ve eaten enough to physically satisfy your body. Put your fork down between bites, engage in conversation with your fellow diners, take a sip of water. Taking time to savor your meal will both help you identify your fullness cues and have greater satisfaction in your meal.
And that’s a very broad overview of intuitive and mindful eating. I learned about these concepts about 5 years ago, and it changed my life. I was a diet-obsessed fitness junkie who obsessively tracked calories and was always trying to drop those last 5 pounds – spoiler alert – that never happened.
When I stopped obsessing about food and gave myself the permission to enjoy it, I found freedom and surprisingly didn’t gain any weight. I know that’s a big fear for many people when they hear about intuitive eating. They think it means they’re “giving up.” You’re not giving up – you’re giving your body the ability to find its happiest weight and your mind a chance to be at peace.
INTUITIVE EATING ON A PLANT-BASED DIET
Lastly, I want to touch on how eating a predominantly plant-based diet fits into all of this. To some, eating no or limited animal foods is a form of restriction and food rules. I think it really depends on the reasons behind your decision. If you’re following a plant-based diet simply because you want to lose weight, it’s probably not going to work for you.
If, however, you choose to eat this way because it aligns with a lifestyle rooted in respect for animals, the planet, and your own overall health – and you simply don’t *want* to eat meat anymore, it isn’t a rule but a preference.
I don’t want to eat meat, so I don’t. I do on occasion want to eat eggs and dairy, hence the “predominantly” in my predominantly plant-based philosophy. This is how I honor my body and my hunger but also my health and ethical ideals. Your approach may be different. I know many strict vegans who also practice intuitive eating – you have to figure out what works for you.
If you want to learn more about intuitive and mindful eating, I recommend you check out the original dietitians who created it! >>
And if you’re interested in trying my predominantly plant-based eating approach, grab my FREE 7-day meal plan! >>
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Weigh-in: What are your thoughts on intuitive eating and mindful eating? Will you implement them?
Amanda Howard says:
I enjoyed this post so much Whitney. Thank you so much for putting it together. Those 4 tips for mindful eating are so good & truly do make the difference.
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