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Mindful vs. intuitive eating: Two ways to change how you eat

Our eating habits are often tied to our emotions, which influences what we eat—usually to our detriment. Furthermore, sitting down for a leisurely meal can feel like a luxury we can’t afford when our schedules are stuffed full, so eating becomes something we hurry through while we’re thinking about other things.

Whether it’s because of how we feel or how full our calendars are, society’s relationship with food is becoming more casual and passive. We eat on the go, skip meals, and overindulge without giving it much thought. As a result, we miss out on some of the benefits we get from food beyond merely satisfying hunger.

It’s this realization that has led to the rise in popularity of two food movements: mindful and intuitive eating. These two approaches provide distinct yet complementary ways to connect with our bodies, enjoy our food more, and make healthier, more satisfying choices.

What is mindful eating?

Mindful eating is all about being present in the moment while you eat. This means paying close attention to your food, savoring each bite, and engaging all your senses to get the most out of the experience.

Eliminating distractions is another important aspect of mindful eating. By turning off the TV and setting phones aside, it’s easier to focus on the food in front of us, enjoying everything from the colors to the textures to the flavors.

There is no room for judgment here; mindful eating doesn’t assign a good or bad “grade” to any food. The overall goal is simply to pay more attention to what we’re eating, which in turn helps us enjoy what we’re eating and better monitor when we’ve eaten our fill.

What is intuitive eating?

Intuitive eating is a philosophy that encourages you to listen to your body. This teaches us to eat in response to physical hunger cues and to be aware of when we’re eating for emotional reasons.

By listening to our bodies, we are rejecting diets that are designed to restrict what and how much we eat. There is no one-size-fits-all diet, after all, and intuitive eating is a way to help each individual trust their own body’s ability to regulate itself regardless of external food rules and expectations. All of this helps lead to a healthier relationship with food.

Different approaches, similar benefits

While mindful and intuitive eating have different approaches, they have similar end goals: developing a healthy relationship with food and our bodies. Mindful eating helps you to savor the moment and pay more attention to what you’re eating, and intuitive eating empowers you to trust your body’s signals and respond accordingly. Both help establish healthy eating habits and make food more pleasurable.

6 tips for more mindful/intuitive eating

If you’re looking for ways to find more joy in food, these tips can help you establish healthier habits.

Eliminate distractions. Turn off the TV, put away the phone, shut your laptop, and sit down at the table as often as you can for mealtime. Making meals the sole activity, rather than something to do while you’re multitasking, can help you appreciate what’s in front of you and help you recognize that you’re full before you eat too much.

Eat only when you’re hungry. Before you reach for that snack, ask yourself if you’re really hungry or if you’re just bored or stressed. Listening to your body means eating when you’re genuinely hungry, and not eating when you’re not.

Chew slowly. This not only helps you savor the taste, but it also aids digestion and gives your body time to send signals to your brain that you’ve eaten enough.

Don’t label foods as good or bad. Diet culture encourages us to limit what foods we eat and treats eating certain foods as a moral failure. Mindful and intuitive eating, however, encourage us to enjoy foods of all kinds without guilt or judgment.

Eat what you like, but get a good variety too. Do your best to hit all the major food groups, especially in the whole foods arena, to ensure you’re getting the nutrients you need. Who knows—you might find some new favorites this way!

Start small. For something as central to our lives as eating, it takes time to override bad habits and establish new ones. So don’t expect perfection right away. (In fact, don’t expect perfection at all—that’s another diet culture mantra.) Start by eliminating distractions for one meal a day or paying attention to when you’re hungriest throughout the day. You can make any adjustments as needed from there.

Incorporating mindful and intuitive eating into your life can lead to a more balanced and fulfilling relationship with food, and help you reclaim control over what and when you eat. These approaches to eating are not quick fixes, but rather lifelong journeys that help us change our perceptions and expectations. Happy eating!

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