FAQs about Intuitive and Mindful Eating

Photo by
Kate Voytsutskaya 


Intuitive eating and mindful eating are often presented together in the media but they are not the same thing. 

What is intuitive eating?
Intuitive eating is being aware of hunger and satiety. Intuitive eaters eat when they are hungry and do not eat when they aren’t hungry. 

What is mindful eating?
Mindful eating is being aware of taste, smell, and textures of food. Mindful eaters may eat when they are not hungry. As they eat, they focus on enjoying the food.



What are examples of intuitive eating and mindful eating?
Here are two examples to further demonstrate these differences….


1. An intuitive eater may decide not to eat a cupcake at a party if he isn’t physically hungry, whereas the mindful eater might eat it, despite being full, because he enjoys the experience of eating a cupcake. He may choose to eat it slowly, savoring every bite.

Photo by Brooke Lark

2. An intuitive eater recognizes she is hungry while watching T.V., gets some food, and continues watching T.V. as she eats. A mindful eater does not eat while watching T.V. because the T.V. is a distraction that prevents her from focusing on the food.
Photo by Anh Nguyen

How do I eat intuitively?
You can start to eat intuitively by recognizing your hunger and satiety cues. Pay attention to how you feel before and after eating. If you haven’t eaten, you may feel grumpy, distracted, tired, or lightheaded. You may also hear your stomach rumble or you may feel emptiness in your abdomen. 

Hunger cues vary from person to person. Once you identify your hunger cues, try to satisfy them by eating when you notice them. 

How do I eat mindfully?
You can start to eat mindfully by removing distractions during mealtimes. Turn off the T.V. Put away your cell phone. If you’re with other people, it’s okay to talk—social interaction is important for our health, too—but try not to play poker or multitask.


Next, recognize what makes food appealing to you. Look at your food. Does it look appealing to you? If so, why? Colorful food often is more appealing. Or, you may prefer a toasted or even charred piece of food. Smell your food. Do you like foods that smell fruity, for example? 

Feel your food, either with your hands or in your mouth. Do you prefer crunchy or creamy foods, for
example? (There’s nothing wrong with touching your food! Many cultures accept eating with your hands and consider it a way to be more intimate with food. There are also studies this may help picky eaters, people with dementia, or others with a low food intake.)

Photo by Gardie Design
Finally, taste your food, of course! Don’t shovel food into your mouth and quickly swallow. Place a bite in your mouth. Put your fork or spoon down. Let the food sit in your mouth a moment. Notice how it tastes. Start to chew or move food around your mouth. Do you notice anything different? Sometimes foods may taste different as we start to break it down. For example, food might taste sweeter as complex carbohydrates get broken down into simpler sugars. 

When you’re ready, swallow. There’s no right or wrong number of chews or no correct amount of time to wait until you swallow. Just do what makes you enjoy the experience.

Photo by Kham Khor

What are some barriers to eating intuitively and mindfully?
Our busy schedules can interfere with our ability to intuitively and mindfully eat. Employers may tell us what time we can eat, preventing us from listening to our hunger cues. We may eat while we work, preventing us from focusing on the experience of eating. Additionally, many of us find ourselves addicted to technology, like cell phones, and can find it hard to put them down.


Emotional eating may also interfere with our ability to focus on our hunger or focus on our food. It may be helpful to keep a food log, noting how you feel when you eat. Do you notice if you eat larger portions or different foods when you feel a certain way? Again, everyone is different. Some people eat more when they are sad or stressed, but others eat more when they are happy.

Photo by Cathryn Lavery

Can intuitive and mindful eating fit into a schedule?
Yes!  Many of us eat on a schedule due to when our workplaces and schools tell us to eat. That's fine; you can still eat mindfully by paying attention to your meal during your assigned break.

If you don't have an assigned break time, that's great. Eat intuitively by taking a break and eating when you are hungry

Am I allowed to eat at my desk?
I don't recommend eating while you work. Eating while you work may distract you from listening to your hunger and satiety cues. If you eating at your desk, consider turning off the monitor or putting your computer in sleep to reduce distractions.


Post any additional questions on intuitive eating and mindful eating in the comments section below.

Comments

  1. This is great info! I've had a hard time explaining the difference between intuitive and mindful eating and this explains it perfectly!

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  2. I love that you included the FAQs about mindful and intuitive eating. It sounds so simple yet is actually quite difficult in practice!

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    Replies
    1. You're right. They aren't as easy as they sound.

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  3. This is an excellent distinction between the two and I think it is really well explained. I like the idea that you can choose one or the other, that they are not presented as one is good or bad.

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  4. I love how you presented this information -- many real life questions answered so informatively! I'm a huge advocate for mindful and intuitive eating and it's great to see RDs who sharing this info too. Thank you!

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  5. Thank you for the detailed explanation; super helpful!

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  6. This is such a great way to explain the difference between intuitive and mindful eating! Both are a learned skill.

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    Replies
    1. You're right, Nazima. Neither are learned overnight.

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