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Explaining the differences and similarities between mindful eating and intuitive eating

Both mindful eating and intuitive eating are concepts that have evolved from the idea that the diet culture that advocates restriction and denial is damaging. Many nutritionists and experts say that restricting calories or measuring meals can lead to unhealthy relationships with food, and don’t help to keep weight off in the long-term.

And while both mindful and intuitive eating work together, there are differences between them. Understanding both approaches can be the key to maintaining a healthy weight and repairing your relationship with food. It’s all about balance and being kind to yourself to achieve your true state of health.

What is mindful eating?

According to the Centre for Mindful Eating (TCME), mindful eating is:

  • When you allow yourself to respect your inner wisdom when selecting and preparing food.
  • When you use every sense to choose the food that your body needs for nourishment.
  • When you allow yourself to acknowledge and feel your responses to different foods without judging yourself.
  • Learning about physical hunger and the cues that tell you that your body is satiated so that you can use these to make good food decisions.
  • Being present, aware and non-judgemental throughout the experience of choosing, preparing and eating food.

While older research on the approach of mindful eating assumes that the reason for weight gain must therefore be ‘mindless eating’, this is not the case. We know so much more about people’s bodies and it is widely accepted that there are many factors combining to affect people’s weight.

These vary from chronic illness to hormonal imbalances, and from genetic influencers to gut health. It’s not as simple as ‘calories in, calories out’. Furthermore, the idea that people ‘eat mindlessly’ only propagates the idea that eating is something that must be restricted or controlled.

Mindful eating is about listening to, learning to trust and fully respecting your internal wisdom about eating and food.

What is intuitive eating?

Intuitive eating is a separate concept from mindful eating. Devised by two nutritionists and dieticians Elyse Resch and Evelyn Tribole, intuitive eating stemmed for their research on eating disorders. There are ten principles of intuitive eating as follows:

  1. Reject the whole concept of going on a diet or restricting food.
  2. Honour and listen to your hunger – you need carbs and energy.
  3. Make peace with food and give yourself permission to eat when you need to.
  4. Don’t label foods good or bad – challenge the ‘food police’.
  5. Allow yourself to experience the satisfaction of feeling full.
  6. Listen to your body’s signals to work out when you are no longer truly hungry.
  7. Be kind to yourself and recognise your struggles with food and weight.
  8. Respect yourself and your genetic body.
  9. Learn to enjoy movement and activity rather than punish yourself with strict exercise regimes.
  10. Be gentle with your nutrition rules – you don’t have to be perfect to be healthy. Look for progress not perfection.

As you can see, this framework is about acceptance and achieving health by combining knowledge about foods and nutrition with internal wisdom.

Differences between these two approaches to food and eating

As you can see, there are definite overlaps between the two approaches to food and eating. There is no prescribed diet plan or rules to follow in either approach. Instead, they talk about nurturing inner wisdom about what is right for you and your body and your nutritional needs.

So, neither intuitive nor mindful eating are about restricting the amount of food you eat or removing entire food groups from your meals. Instead, it’s about focusing on how you interact with food, how it feels to you and what your experiences say about your approach to nutrition.

Crucially, both of these approaches are considered weight neutral. This means that they work for everyone, no matter your size and losing weight is not the overall goal of following them. These are not diets, but the chances are if you are overweight and you begin to eat mindfully or intuitively, you may find that you naturally drop excess weight.

As for differences between the two, there are a number worth mentioning. Mindful eating concerns the present moment of preparing food and ingesting it. It advocates remaining truly present and aware of the process. Intuitive eating, on the other hand, provides a wider framework covering more than just the eating process. It’s about encouraging people to reject damaging diet culture and harmful messages of restriction and denial. It’s about changing their relationship to eating and food in a positive and nurturing way.

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