In one of my recent blogs, I mentioned in passing that mindful eating and intuitive eating are different concepts, a topic that I am circling back to now because I frequently meet new patients who mistakenly believe they are synonymous.
Intuitive eating is an approach that leans upon our body’s internal cues and uses them to drive decisions regarding what, when, and how much to eat. People who eat intuitively generally use sensations of hunger and fullness to determine when to eat and the quantity of food to consume at a given time, and they may utilize a series of matching questions to determine which foods are going to best hit the spot. (Note the words “generally” and “may,” which I have included to reflect that intuitive eating is a set of guidelines that one can use to the extent that they find helpful, not a set of rules that must always be followed.)
Mindful eating, on the other hand, is broader and simply entails paying attention to one’s eating. Intuitive eating falls under the umbrella of mindful eating, but plenty of other versions of mindful eating exist. For example, one could mindfully portion out their dinner as they carefully strive to stay within the day’s points budget. One could be mindful of the texture and flavor of their Halo Top while wishing it were Ben & Jerry’s. One could mindfully savor every bite of their 100-calorie snack pack while knowing they are hungry for more food than they are going to allow themselves to have.
One must be mindful in order to notice internal cues, but one can be mindful of other things while completely ignoring what their bodies are telling them. In other words, one can eat mindfully without eating intuitively, but one cannot eat intuitively without eating mindfully.
If you have thought to yourself that you wish you ate more mindfully, consider looking deeper to discover what it is that you are ultimately hoping to achieve. If weight loss is the motivation, then mindful eating is likely just code for dieting, an attempt to put a rosier package around restriction while the contents remain the same. On the other hand, if recovering from disordered eating or establishing a more peaceful and healthy relationship with food is the goal, then intuitive eating specifically – not mindful eating in general – is the path forward.