I really wanted to explore the topic(s) of Mindful Eating vs. Intuitive Eating. And this is by no means and exhaustive blog post about it either… Albeit still a bit of a lengthy one.
What is the difference between mindfulness and intuition? And what’s the difference between eating mindfully and eating intuitively?
Let’s get clear first of all, that this is not an “either or” thing, and also for me there is no “doing it wrong” when it comes to either bringing mindfulness to the table or using your intuition when making food choices. Because isn’t it this “right or wrong”, “good or bad” mentality and way of thinking that gets us into trouble in the first place?
In this great article Sharon Salzberg, one of the first people to bring mindfulness to the west, asks the question “What is mindfulness anyway?”.
We think of mindfulness as slowing down, paying attention to what we are actually doing. Or we think it is when we sit still on a cushion (trying to)focusing and pay attention to our breath.
But in the article Salzberg goes on to put her definition of mindfulness as this;
“Mindfulness isn’t just about knowing that you’re hearing something, seeing something, or even observing that you’re having a particular feeling. It’s about doing so in a certain way — with balance and equanimity, and without judgment. Mindfulness is the practice of paying attention in a way that creates space for insight.”
What becomes important, whether we are talking about life in general or about food and eating in particular is this that we pay attention in an open, curious way with no judgment. When we start paying attention like this, especially to our thoughts, it gets very interesting. It also my own personal experience that “mindfulness is the practice of paying attention in a way that creates space for insight”, is truth.
So if our aim is to get off the “dieting treadmill”, and finding our way back to a less restrictive way of eating, which may not just open us up to more food choices but also to a whole new world of space for possibilities, we need to tap into our insight.
The definition of Insight is; the capacity to gain an accurate and deep understanding of something. Some of the synonyms are: intuition, perception, awareness and discernment.
To bring this back around to intuition and intuitive eating, my personal definition for intuitive eating would be; to let our body guides us in making the food choices to support it needs. With the consideration that the definition of intuition is; “ the ability to understand something instinctively, without the need for conscious reasoning”.
But I wasn’t the one who coined the term Intuitive Eating. It originally comes from Evelyn Tribole, MS, RD and Elyse Resch, MS, RDN who wrote the book with the same name.
When I started out on my own journey to heal my body and my relationship with food, the first thing was to ditch the scales and surrender to the fact that my happiness did not and would never depend on whatever number it would show. I also had to make peace with the fact that I maybe I would or maybe I wouldn’t lose any weigh. However, at the time weighing myself wasn’t making me lose weight either, it was only making me feel more miserable…
The other thing I did was to give myself full permission to eat whatever I wanted, no restrictions whatsoever. With just the simple guidelines of focusing on just eating when I was hungry and learning to tune into stop when just comfortably full. At this time I had never heard of Intuitive Eating, but I had read countless dieting books… It wasn’t actually till a few years ago that I came across Evelyn and Elyse’s work.
Yet somehow my own intuition told me that this was the next logical step.
In the book Intuitive Eating, there are 10 guidelines to help you eat intuitively. They are the following:
10 Principles of Intuitive Eating
1. Reject the Diet Mentality Throw out the diet books and magazine articles that offer you false hope of losing weight quickly, easily, and permanently. Get angry at the lies that have led you to feel as if you were a failure every time a new diet stopped working and you gained back all of the weight. If you allow even one small hope to linger that a new and better diet might be lurking around the corner, it will prevent you from being free to rediscover Intuitive Eating.
2. Honor Your Hunger Keep your body biologically fed with adequate energy and carbohydrates. Otherwise you can trigger a primal drive to overeat. Once you reach the moment of excessive hunger, all intentions of moderate, conscious eating are fleeting and irrelevant. Learning to honor this first biological signal sets the stage for re-building trust with yourself and food.
3. Make Peace with Food Call a truce, stop the food fight! Give yourself unconditional permission to eat. If you tell yourself that you can’t or shouldn’t have a particular food, it can lead to intense feelings of deprivation that build into uncontrollable cravings and, often, binging When you finally “give-in” to your forbidden food, eating will be experienced with such intensity, it usually results in Last Supper overeating, and overwhelming guilt.
4. Challenge the Food Police .Scream a loud “NO” to thoughts in your head that declare you’re “good” for eating minimal calories or “bad” because you ate a piece of chocolate cake. The Food Police monitor the unreasonable rules that dieting has created . The police station is housed deep in your psyche, and its loud speaker shouts negative barbs, hopeless phrases, and guilt-provoking indictments. Chasing the Food Police away is a critical step in returning to Intuitive Eating.
5. Respect Your Fullness Listen for the body signals that tell you that you are no longer hungry. Observe the signs that show that you’re comfortably full. Pause in the middle of a meal or food and ask yourself how the food tastes, and what is your current fullness level?
6. Discover the Satisfaction Factor The Japanese have the wisdom to promote pleasure as one of their goals of healthy living In our fury to be thin and healthy, we often overlook one of the most basic gifts of existence–the pleasure and satisfaction that can be found in the eating experience. When you eat what you really want, in an environment that is inviting and conducive, the pleasure you derive will be a powerful force in helping you feel satisfied and content. By providing this experience for yourself, you will find that it takes much less food to decide you’ve had “enough”.
7. Honor Your Feelings Without Using Food Find ways to comfort , nurture, distract, and resolve your issues without using food. Anxiety, loneliness, boredom, anger are emotions we all experience throughout life. Each has its own trigger, and each has its own appeasement. Food won’t fix any of these feelings. It may comfort for the short term, distract from the pain, or even numb you into a food hangover. But food won’t solve the problem. If anything, eating for an emotional hunger will only make you feel worse in the long run. You’ll ultimately have to deal with the source of the emotion, as well as the discomfort of overeating.
8. Respect Your Body Accept your genetic blueprint. Just as a person with a shoe size of eight would not expect to realistically squeeze into a size six, it is equally as futile (and uncomfortable) to have the same expectation with body size. But mostly, respect your body, so you can feel better about who you are. It’s hard to reject the diet mentality if you are unrealistic and overly critical about your body shape.
9. Exercise–Feel the Difference Forget militant exercise. Just get active and feel the difference. Shift your focus to how it feels to move your body, rather than the calorie burning effect of exercise. If you focus on how you feel from working out, such as energized, it can make the difference between rolling out of bed for a brisk morning walk or hitting the snooze alarm. If when you wake up, your only goal is to lose weight, it’s usually not a motivating factor in that moment of time.
10. Honor Your Health–Gentle Nutrition Make food choices that honor your health and tastebuds while making you feel well. Remember that you don’t have to eat a perfect diet to be healthy. You will not suddenly get a nutrient deficiency or gain weight from one snack, one meal, or one day of eating. It’s what you eat consistently over time that matters, progress not perfection is what counts.
I love all of these. And if we can find our way to embrace food and eating like this, we are well on our way to have a healthy relationship with both.
However, one of the things that seems to be so challenging when it comes to start out on a path to eat intuitively is to give ourselves permission to trust our bodies. This is where I see mindfulness coming in, because if we are to place trust in our bodies we need to begin to listen to them. Not to the thoughts and the merry go around conversation in our heads, but instead tuning back into our internal wisdom, our intuition, which we all have. And it is the space created by mindfulness that we find that inner voice.
Mindfulness starts with awareness. Like I heard someone say the other day “You can’t tell people to be here now, because they are not aware that they are not present.” Which is kind of true…!
So if perhaps way before we even get to a place of listening into what hunger and satiety feels like, or are aware of the negative conversation that plays on repeat in our head, or even the universal truth that we are not our thoughts, we may need to go back to simply noticing.
We are pretty use to consuming and take in information from the external world, so this can be a pretty good place to start, as a way leading on to cultivate the information that comes from within. Just take note that this way of taking “information in” is more as a sensory experience than an intellectual one.
With this in mind, I want to leave you with my three favourite ways to help you on your way to increase your awareness, cultivate mindfulness and nourish your intuition.
1. Start by simply noticing. Take mental notes of how things like how the sun (or the rain) feel against your skin, how the next bite of food tastes in your mouth, how your feet feel against the ground as you are walking, any sound you are and so on. When you pay attention in this way, you are present. You are here now.
2. Find some time, at least a few times a week, for silence and stillness. Imagine what it is like to hear someone else trying to tell you something in a busy pub or at a concert, where the noise level is really high. You have to shout at each other to be heard, and even at that some vital info may get lost in the process. The same goes for trying to tune in to that silent voice within. If you are to hear it, lessening the outside noise and distractions are a must.
3. Practice asking yourself the question “What do I really need?” When you stare into the pantry or the fridge for the umpteenth time, ask yourself this. Is it food you need, or is it rest, sleep, company or even play? And even when it comes to food choices, ask yourself the same question. What do I really want or need? I bet, as you get better and better at practicing and listening, you will find that there is no need to worry about always wanting chocolate cake, sometimes the body actually wants green salads and colourful fresh food.
Putting these steps into practice will over time, not just increase your awareness and your presence of being present, they will also offer you the space to make more compassionate and empowered choices, may it be with food and eating or in your life at large.
A way of, with courage, moving from fear of losing control, to a place of embracing uncertainty with compassion, curiosity and love.
Do you long to let go of obsession around food, eating and weight? Would you like to feel freedom and peace around meals and beyond, but need some help and support to get there?
It would be an honour to walk with you on this path. Please email me HERE to set up a free 30 min consultation to explore how this may be possible for you too.
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