This is an overview of Intuitive Eating Vs Mindful Eating. Intuitive eating and mindful eating have become popular tools to help people eat and consume the proper amount of food and nutrition appropriate for their bodies. Maybe you have heard of both and wondered, are these the same? Are they different? I will review Intuitive Eating Vs Mindful Eating, the benefits for each, and the differences between these two nutrition concepts.

What is Intuitive Eating?

First, let’s start with what is intuitive eating? Intuitive eating is a framework that helps you focus on your internal cues, such as hunger and fullness. This focus promotes healthy eating based on your body’s needs and not on “diets” or restrictive eating patterns that can go against our internal cues.

Intuitive eating was developed in 1995 by registered dietitians Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch and has become a popular tool for registered dietitians worldwide to help and educate others. Intuitive eating is an anti-diet approach to healthy eating.

We are born with hunger and fullness internal cues. However, internal signals can be lessened or ignored over the years due to dieting or emotional eating. For some people, knowing when to eat based on hunger and when to stop eating based on the proper level of fullness may be easy; for others, it is not.

Principles of Intuitive Eating

There are ten principles of intuitive eating. Here is a brief overview of the principles.

1. Reject the Diet Mentality

The first step is to reject the diet mentality. There is always a new diet that promises quick weight loss. But while most diets may cause weight loss, once you no longer follow the diet, the weight comes back. Following diets can sometimes lead to an endless weight loss and weight gain cycle.

The steps to rejecting the diet mentality include recognizing the damage from dieting (physically, psychologically, and emotionally), being aware of diet-mentality traits and thinking, and getting rid of dieter’s tools. Examples of a diet mentality are do I deserve to eat this food? I feel guilty if I eat something sweet. And a couple of examples of the non-diet mentality are I deserve to eat without guilt. Am I hungry?

Once you can be aware of the diet mentality that may not be serving you, it can help you heal your connection with food and improve your health. Intuitive eating requires relying on internal cues and not outside influences telling you how, what, and when to eat.

2. Honor Your Hunger

Honoring your hunger is another critical principle for intuitive eating. Honoring your hunger means keeping your body adequately fed with the appropriate amount of energy or calories. If you are eating less than your body needs, this can eventually lead to overeating.

The first step to honoring your biological hunger is to notice your hunger signals. Noticing hunger signals may be difficult at first if you have been ignoring these cues previously. It is essential to ask yourself if you are hungry every time you eat. And what level of hunger do you feel. Signals of feeling hungry can include gurgling in the stomach, growling noises, feeling lightheaded, feeling irritable or having difficulty concentrating, and feeling faint or having a headache. You want to prevent feeling overly hungry because this may lead to overeating.

Using a Hunger Discovery Scale scale can help you determine your hunger level or fullness. For example, on a scale of 0-10, 0 being completely empty, 1-2 being ravenous, and 4 being your first feeling of hunger pangs. Tribole and Resch recommend eating at a level of 3-4. Level 5 is neutral, which is not feeling hungry or full.

Tribole and Resch also point out that it is sensible to eat for taste, meaning eating when something sounds good or is an occasion. And it is also essential to eat when practical. For example, if you meet friends or family for dinner at a specific time but are not hungry. But you won’t have a chance to eat afterward. Then it makes sense to have a light meal so that you are not ravenous later. Also, noticing the differences between biological hunger and emotional hunger is necessary. Emotional hunger or eating occurs to deal with emotions such as sadness, loneliness, anger, and boredom.

3. Make Peace with Food

Following restrictive diets typically lead to cravings for foods that are not allowed and can be followed by overeating or bingeing. In intuitive eating, the key is to make peace with food and allow unconditional permission to eat any food. This change in mindset will enable you to decrease the urge to want to eat that “forbidden” food because they no longer feel prohibited.

According to Tribole and Resch, “When you know the food will be there and allowed, day after day, it doesn’t become so important to have it. Food loses its power.” Making peace with food is a process. You will become more confident with this process by actually allowing yourself to eat.

“When you know the food will be there and allowed, day after day, it doesn’t become so important to have it. Food loses its power.”

Making peace with food is a five-step process:

1. Pay attention to foods that appeal to you and make a list of them.

2. Put a check by the foods you eat, then circle the remaining foods you have been restricting.

3. Permit yourself to eat one forbidden food from your list, then go to the store to buy this food or order it at a restaurant.

4. Check in with yourself to see if the food tastes as good as you thought. If you enjoy it, continue to permit yourself to eat it.

5. Make sure that you keep enough of the food in your kitchen to know it will be there if you want it. Or you can order this at a restaurant as often as you like instead of having it at home.

intuitive eating vs. mindful eating, woman eating at restaurant
Photo by Alex Haney on Unsplash

Following this process will help you know you can eat what you want.

4. Challenge the Food Police

The diet culture has caused people to feel guilty when eating foods they enjoy. We have external pressure to eat only “good” foods and feel guilty when eating “bad” foods. People will share their thoughts on what other people are eating. Even as dietitians, others think they can examine what we eat and verbalize their views on our choices.

And not only do people have to deal with outside comments, but there are also your inner critic or inner food police making judgments. For example, you may have thoughts telling you not to eat that bagel because it has too many carbs. Or cheese is unhealthy for you. These thoughts can be damaging and may lead to behaviors. Tribole and Resch call these thoughts the Food Police because they are cognitive distortions. They further divide these thoughts or voices into three categories that can be destructive: the Food Police, the Nutrition Informant, and the Diet Rebel.

The Nutrition Informant are thoughts telling you to make food choices based on health, but you may feel deprived or unsatisfied. The Diet Rebel is a voice in your head that sounds angry and determined. An example is, “I’m not going to eat those steamed vegetables!” Or “I better eat all of these cookies before my husband comes home.” Making rebellious comments can be dangerous because they may lead to severely overeating.

Food Ally Voices

However, there are powerful ally voices that can help to challenge these voices. For example, the Nutrition Informant may tell you that you shouldn’t eat again even though you feel hungry after eating an apple. You may end up waiting until you are ravenous and then eat all the snacks you have at home. Then the Nutrition Informant tells you only to eat vegetables for dinner. But the Nutrition Informant can become the Nutrition Ally. The Nutrition Ally helps you make food choices when focused on health without feeling guilty.

And you can turn your Diet Rebel into the Rebel Ally by telling your friends not to make comments about your food choices or your body.

Another powerful ally voice is the Food Anthropologist, a neutral observer. This voice makes observations without making judgments. For example, you notice you are starving when you get home from work. This neutral observation may also make you see you are skipping lunch and, therefore, feel so hungry in the evening. The Food Anthropologist’s observations help you eat an adequately sized lunch so that you are not ravenous in the evening.

The Nurturer is also a powerful ally because it is a soft, gentle inner voice that reassures you that you are doing ok and everything will be fine. This voice does not scold and never is critical or judgmental. And, it is the positive self-talk that can lead you away from negative or fearful thoughts. A couple of examples of the Nurturer, “I feel good when I take care of my body.” And “It is ok to eat a slice of pizza.”

Challenging the Food Police with Positive Self-Talk

When we have an initial thought about dieting or the foods we think we should eat, this leads to a feeling that leads to a behavior. If you eat foods that go against the diet, this can lead to negative self-talk, feeling bad, and self-destructive behavior. But if you switch the negative self-talk to positive thoughts, this will lead to feeling better and change your behaviors. Tribole and Resch recommend changing irrational thinking with rational thoughts.

One example of irrational thinking is only thinking in terms of good versus bad. This type of thinking is an all-or-nothing approach, such as not eating any sweets or eating sweets all the time. When I am not eating any sweets, this is good, but it isn’t good if I eat them. This all-or-nothing approach can lead to negative emotions and dangerous behavior such as binge eating. Instead of having this black and white viewpoint, think in terms of gray or the middle. Give up the all-or-nothing mindset and allow yourself to eat the restricted foods. By doing this, it helps to banish dangerous behaviors.

Most importantly, self-awareness is the best tool against negative thoughts and the food police. So notice your ideas about food and choose positive self-talk to promote supportive behaviors and a healthy relationship with food.

5. Feel Your Fullness

Feeling your fullness is listening to the body signals telling you that you are not hungry. Unfortunately, some people come from a culture of being told to finish all the food on their plate. And this practice can cause people to turn off their internal cues, eating past when they are comfortably full. The key to respecting fullness is to permit yourself to eat again when you are hungry or that you can have a particular food again.

Many people go into autopilot when eating, sometimes not tasting their food. But using conscious eating is the first step to getting away from autopilot mode. One tip to doing this is pausing in the middle of a meal or snack. Notice how the food tastes. Do you enjoy it, or are you eating it because it is there? Also, check in to see what your hunger or fullness level is. If you are still hungry, then you can continue to eat. The practice of conscious eating does take time, so be patient with yourself.

Also, remember to use the Hunger or Fullness Discovery Scale. Out of a scale of 0-10, level 10 you feel sick from overeating, level 9 you feel stuffed, level 8 you feel full, level 7 is you feel satisfied, and level 6 is just satisfied. Your goal is to aim for a level 6-7, just satisfied to satisfied. Another essential point to remember is that the hungrier you are when you start eating, i.e., feeling ravenous, the more likely your fullness number will be higher when you stop. Therefore, Tribole and Resch recommend starting eating at a level 3 or 4, the initial feeling of hunger pangs.

Since eating to a level of feeling satisfied is the best, eating foods that provide satiety or fullness is helpful to feeling satisfied at your meals. These recommended “staying power foods” contain fiber, complex carbohydrates, protein, and healthy fats.

6. Discover the Satisfaction Factor

Discovering the satisfaction factor of eating is the concept of genuinely feeling satisfied with your eating experience will help you eat less food. When you feel satisfied now, this can decrease the yearning for foods later. When you allow yourself to feel pleasure from every eating experience, the total amount of food you eat will decrease.

Some tips to increase your satisfaction are to ask yourself what you really want to eat. Also, use your senses while eating by noticing the taste, texture, aroma, appearance, temperature, and heaviness or lightness of your food. In addition, make your eating experience more enjoyable by savoring your food. Savor your food by giving yourself enough time to eat, sit down instead of standing, take several deep breaths before you eat to calm yourself, and eat as slowly as your can. Putting your fork down several times throughout the meal can help to slow you down.

Another essential tip is not to settle. If you don’t love the food, then don’t eat it. And the foods you do love, remember to savor them.

7. Cope with Your Emotions Without Using Food

Another essential step to becoming an intuitive eater is to learn how to cope with your emotions without using food. Emotional eating is one of the ways that people become unconnected from their internal cues of hunger. Emotions such as anger, loneliness, and boredom can trigger overeating.

Emotional eating has varying intensities. First, there is sensory gratification at the mild end of the spectrum, which can be enjoying the pleasure of a particular food around the holidays. Next, there is comfort, such as eating comfort foods like macaroni and cheese when it is cold outside. Eating comfort foods can still be part of having a healthy relationship with food. However, Tribole and Resch do caution that if “food is the first and only thing that comes to mind to take care of you when you are feeling sad, lonely, or uncomfortable, it can become a destructive coping mechanism.”

“if food is the first and only thing that comes to mind to take care of you when you are feeling sad, lonely, or uncomfortable, it can become a destructive coping mechanism.”

The next level on the emotional eating spectrum is Distraction. You are using food to distract you from feelings you don’t want to feel. Distraction can be destructive because it can keep you from discovering why you feel the way you do and dealing with it healthily. However, sedation is a more serious way to cope using food because it numbs you and blocks you from noticing basic hunger and fullness signals. The last and most severe form of emotional eating is eating for punishment. Angrily eating large quantities of food can cause you to feel beat up.

Questions to Ask Yourself to Start Coping with Emotional Eating

There are four key steps to help you no longer use food as a coping mechanism. First, ask yourself, “am I biologically hungry?”. If you answer yes, then eat. If no, then ask yourself, “what am I feeling? Trying to figure out why you feel the way you do can help. Journaling or talking with a friend, or even talking to a therapist can help you deal with your feelings without food. Next, ask yourself, “what do I need?” Discovering what you need is another important step because many people eat to meet an unmet need. And also, asking, “would you please…?” is another helpful question to ask others as many who overeat can have difficulty speaking up for what they need.

Ways to Meet Your Needs without Food

Using self-care to meet your needs without food is essential to coping with your emotions. Self-care allows you to nurture yourself and to feel comforted. Here are some self-care ideas:

  • Talk with a good friend
  • Listen to your favorite music
  • Take deep breaths
  • Go for a walk
  • Get a massage or manicure

Once you feel comforted, you can face your feelings more easily. I’ve always found writing my feelings down in a journal extremely helpful. It allows you to get out your feelings and feel relief because they are no longer bottled up inside you. Also, calling a good friend that is willing to listen is another way to get your feelings out. And allowing yourself to sit with your emotions or letting yourself cry. It can be scary to feel intense feelings, but it will allow the intensity to lessen over time. Also, talking with a therapist can be a great way to help you identify feelings. Therapists can also give you great ways to help you cope in a healthy way.

Another helpful way to cope with emotional eating is Distraction. You are allowing yourself to take a break and do an activity that distracts you in a healthy way, such as reading a good book, watching a funny movie, dancing to music, or looking at travel blogs or magazines to dream up your next vacation! These activities not only distract you but also help you to feel GOOD! And feeling good can help you take care of your emotional, mental, and physical health.

8. Respect Your Body

Respecting your body is an essential principle of intuitive eating. Tribole and Resch define respecting your body by “treating it with dignity and meeting its basic needs.” Focusing on respect for your body as the first goal before weight loss will help you keep moving forward. And when you respect your body, intuitive eating will come more easily.

So you may be wondering, how do I respect my body? There are two ways to respect your body. First, make your body comfortable. And second, meet your body’s basic needs. Remember that your body deserves to be fed, treated with dignity, dressed in comfortable clothes that fit properly, move comfortably, and respectfully receive love.

9. Exercise – Feel the Difference

Shifting your focus from the mindset, you must exercise to burn calories to exercising to feel good can motivate you to keep an active lifestyle. For example, have you ever noticed when you feel like you must do something, you don’t want to do it? And choosing exercises that you know will burn a lot of calories but you don’t enjoy doing can also decrease your motivation to stay active.

First, focus on how it feels when you are active. Notice if it helps you to feel less stressed, have increased energy, overall have an improved sense of wellbeing, feel like you can handle anything, and sleep more soundly.

Second, separate exercise from weight loss. Exercising does help with maintaining your weight, improving metabolism, and preserving lean body mass. However, if exercising for weight loss is your only motivation to stay active, this may not be enough to keep you going. So focus also on the other benefits of exercising.

Third, focus on exercise as a way of taking care of yourself. The benefit of physical activity is endless! These benefits include increased muscle and bone strength, reduced stress, decreased blood pressure, lowered risk of chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease, and improved cholesterol levels.

3 women hiking in the woods
Photo by Greg Rosenke on Unsplash

Some other tips, remember to make exercise fun! Doing a physical activity you enjoy will help you to stay active. Also, scheduling time to exercise will make sure you keep yourself committed.

10. Honor Your Health – Gentle Nutrition

Making food choices that honor health, that taste delicious, and make you feel good is the key to gentle nutrition. Also, focus on the progress you have made. It is not about eating a “perfect” diet but eating healthy consistently over time.

intuitive eating vs. mindful eating, women eating salmon, asparagus, and rice
Photo by Travis Yewell on Unsplash

But what is healthy eating? It can be easy to be confused about this with all the conflicting nutrition information in the media. Tribole and Resch define healthy eating as “eating primarily healthy food and having a healthy relationship with food.” First, feeding your metabolism means that you need to eat enough food to fuel your physical activity and maintain your lean body mass. Second, include healthy foods consistently: whole grains, vegetables, fruits, protein; beans, legumes; calcium-rich foods such as dairy or dairy alternatives, leafy green vegetables; healthy fats, and water.

Also, remember there are no forbidden foods. There is still room for your favorite foods.

To learn more about Intuitive Eating and the principles, I recommend reading Intuitive Eating, 4th Edition: A Revolutionary Anti-Diet Approach.

Benefits of Intuitive Eating

There are many benefits of intuitive eating. Alissa Rumsey, a dietitian, specializing in intuitive eating, provides 24 benefits of intuitive eating. Here are the top 10 benefits:

  1. Able to detect and honor your hunger cues.
  2. Learn what foods you like and dislike.
  3. Have fewer thoughts of guilt about food.
  4. Food no longer is “good” or “bad”.
  5. Food tastes better.
  6. Become more attuned to how certain foods make you feel.
  7. Have more energy.
  8. Have fewer cravings.
  9. Develop increased self-confidence.
  10. Your relationships improve with your friends and family.

What is Mindful Eating?

Now that we understand intuitive eating let’s look at mindful eating. Mindfulness is a practice based on Zen Buddhism. It is a way of self-calming and is a method to change eating behaviors.

According to Joseph B. Nelson, author of Mindful Eating: The Art of Presence While You Eat, “mindful eating is an approach to food that focuses on individuals’ sensual awareness of the food and their experience of the food.”

“mindful eating is an approach to food that focuses on individuals’ sensual awareness of the food and their experience of the food.”

Dr. Susan Albers is the author of Eating Mindfully: How to End Mindless Eating and Enjoy a Balanced Relationship with Food. She gives several examples of mindful eating, including being aware of how you eat, knowing your hunger and fullness cues, and sensing and savoring food – genuinely tasting it.

Albers reviews the Four Foundations of Mindfulness of Buddha’s teachings. These are being mindful of your mind, body, thoughts, and feelings, which are four factors impacting how you eat. Using the four foundations can help you understand why and how you eat. Albers provides skill builders for each of the four foundations, which can help mindless eaters become more aware when eating. Here are some ways to become more mindful using the four foundations of mindfulness.

Mindfulness of the Mind

  • Be more aware of sensations such as taste, touch, and smell.
  • Notice if you are mindless eating or tasting every bite.
  • Be in the moment and focus on what is happening right now.
  • Break out of eating on autopilot.

Mindfulness of the Body

  • Pay attention to the eating process such as picking up your fork or spoon.
  • Be aware of your breathing, which can relax you and bring you into the moment.
  • Taste and savor the food, noticing the texture and flavor.
  • Notice hunger cues like your stomach growling or rumbling.

Mindfulness of Feelings

  • Be aware of feelings that trigger you to eat such as stress, loneliness, or boredom.
  • Also, be aware of feelings that come after eating such as comfort and pleasure.
  • Notice feelings with overeating such as guilt and regret.
  • And notice feelings that come after eating mindfully like feeling content or comfortable.

Mindfulness of Thoughts

  • Be aware of your inner critic.
  • Increase your awareness of negative inner dialogue such as “You shouldn’t eat that”.
  • Notice the types of thoughts you have such as judgments, positive or negative, or black and white.

Incorporating mindfulness into your eating habits and everyday life can help to provide you with more insight into your habits and behaviors. When you live in the “here and now,” you can make better decisions and explore new ideas.

Benefits of Mindful Eating

Here are just a few benefits of mindful eating. You may find many more if you incorporate some of the practices into your life.

  1. Mindful eating reconnects you with your body’s signals.
  2. Mindfulness improves the management of your emotions.
  3. Being mindful changes the way you think so you respond instead of reacting to negative food-related thoughts.

What is the Difference between Intuitive Eating Vs Mindful Eating?

So, now that we have reviewed Intuitive Eating Vs. Mindful Eating, what is the difference?

There are some similarities and concepts that overlap. But, the main difference is that intuitive eating is a framework using ten principles that help you focus on your internal hunger and fullness cues. In contrast, mindful eating is a practice to promote self-calming and change eating behaviors. However, you use mindfulness concepts to help connect to your internal cues. Therefore, you are also learning mindfulness practices by using the intuitive eating process.

Intuitive eating was created by dietitians Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch and continues to grow into an anti-diet approach to treat the negative thoughts and behaviors from many years of dieting and the diet culture. In comparison, mindfulness and mindful eating were a way of life discovered and practiced by Buddha, now Buddhists, and non-Buddhists today. According to Nelson, mindfulness has helped thousands of people live more intentionally and better manage chronic pain, disease, and depression. Mindful eating can also help to retrain eating behaviors.

Overall, both mindful eating and intuitive eating can help you to improve your relationship with food and overall health. You can start by using mindfulness practices today to help you live in the here and now instead of focusing on that past or worrying about the future. It will help you to enjoy your food and meals now without regret. And, if you are tired of the diet culture, you can find a registered dietitian specializing in intuitive eating or mindful eating to help you improve your relationship with food.

Resources for Intuitive Eating and Mindful Eating

Here are a couple of resources if you want to learn more about intuitive eating and mindful eating.

Conclusion

Intuitive eating and mindful eating are helpful tools to help you improve your relationship with food and promote healthy eating behaviors. While many concepts of intuitive eating and mindful eating overlap, there are some differences. Intuitive eating is a framework using ten principles to guide you towards rejecting the diet culture and learning to trust your internal cues. Mindful eating is a practice based on Zen Buddhism and focuses on mindfulness and self-calming to change eating behaviors to help you truly enjoy and savor your food. Both intuitive eating and mindful eating concepts can help you improve your overall physical, mental, and emotional health.

References

Albers, S., & Cheung, L. (2012). Eating mindfully: How to end mindless eating and enjoy a balanced relationship with food. New Harbinger Publications.

Nelson JB. Mindful Eating: The Art of Presence While You Eat. Diabetes Spectr. 2017;30(3):171-174. doi:10.2337/ds17-0015

Tribole, E., & Resch, E. (2020). Intuitive eating: An anti-diet revolutionary approach. St. Martin’s Essentials.

More Nutrition Information!

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Dietitian, food lover, and world traveler! Veronica has been a registered dietitian for over 20 years, specializing in clinical and community nutrition. She enjoys wellness, trying new foods, and exploring the globe to learn about different cultures.

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