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Intuitive and Mindful Eating

Intuitive and mindful eating are trendy concepts. What do they really mean? Let's break it down.

Intuitive Eating

Tuning into and trusting your innate wisdom as it relates to eating. This can include paying attention to physical hunger/fullness cues, choosing foods you really enjoy rather than ones you feel you “should” eat, and giving yourself permission to eat a variety of foods.

Registered dietitians Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch are said to be the “Original Intuitive Eating Pros” and have a number of resources and information.

Mindful Eating

Australian dietitian Fiona Sutherland sums it up with four key concepts:

  • Satisfaction.
  • Nourishment.
  • No judgement.
  • Attention to body cues.

So What?

You can see that intuitive and mindful eating concepts over-lap and have many similarities. How do we use these concepts? Do not feel like you need to perfect intuitive and mindful eating or check them off a “to-do” list. It is a process, not necessarily an end goal.

Intuitive and mindful eating will mean different things for different people. One person may benefit from slowing down while eating or minimizing distractions while eating. Another person could realize they need MORE distraction while eating. For example, someone who struggles with an eating disorder may benefit from distractions while eating, at least initially. There is no one size fits all approach.

A great question to ask yourself is: “How do I use these concepts to improve my relationship with food, my body, or even my quality of life?”

Get Your "Critical Lens" Out

Intuitive and mindful eating are “anti-diet.” However, the diet industry has started to co-opt these concepts. Be wary when you see some of these red flags:

  • Promising a quick fix.
  • Lots of “shoulds” and “shouldn’ts.”
  • Completely banning or avoiding certain foods.
  • Focused on weight loss.
  • Over-simplifying (e.g., mindful eating is just about eating slowly).

"Normal Eating" Is...

  • Going to the table hungry and eating until you are satisfied.
  • Being able to choose food you enjoy and eat it and truly get enough of it – not just stop eating because you think you should.
  • Giving some thought to your food selection so you get nutritious food, but not being so wary and restrictive that you miss out on enjoyable food.
  • Giving yourself permission to eat sometimes because you are happy, sad, bored, or just because it feels good.
  • Mostly three meals a day, or four, or five, or it can be choosing to munch along the way.
  • Leaving some cookies on the plate because you know you can have some again tomorrow, or it is eating more now because they taste so wonderful.
  • Overeating at times, feeling stuffed and uncomfortable. Undereating at times and wishing you had more.
  • Trusting your body to make up for your mistakes in eating. Normal eating takes up some of your time and attention, but keeps its place as only one important area of your life.
  • In short, normal eating is flexible. It varies in response to your hunger, your schedule, your proximity to food, and your feelings.

Intuitive Movement

Intuitive movement is basically intuitive eating concepts applied to movement (e.g., exercise or physical activity).

Intuitive Movement can be Defined as

  • Moving your body in ways you enjoy and
  • Tuning into and honoring messages your body is sending regarding movement (e.g., when you need to move, and when you need to rest).

Often, cultural messages regarding movement encourage folks to “go hard or go home,” push themselves to the breaking point, and obtain a certain body type that is often unrealistic. However, this messaging can be damaging both physically and mentally.

Questions to Ask Yourself

  • What is my intention when exercising? Is it to “burn off” what I’ve eaten?
  • Is the sole reason for exercise to manipulate or conform my body?
  • Am I over-focused on numbers while exercising (e.g., calories, minutes, laps, and kilometers) and not paying attention to when my body has had enough or needs more?
  • Are other things in my life suffering because I’m so focused on exercise?

Intuitive Movement Encourages Focus on the Many Benefits of Movement

  • Increased mood.
  • Increased energy levels.
  • Better concentration and memory.
  • Improved sleep.
  • Increased strength and flexibility.
  • Decreased risk of chronic illness.
  • Improved strength of heart and lungs.

Christy Harrison’s Food Psych podcast explores the “joyful movement” concepts in episode #140.

References

The Student Wellness Centre's registered dietitian offers services that align with the intuitive and mindful eating approach. You can self-refer to access this service.

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