Guide to Mindful (or Intuitive) Eating

Have you ever felt guilty about your food choices, eaten when stressed, or stuffed yourself so full you feel sick? What about having an internal dialogue debating whether or not you deserve that portion of dessert? Yes, I have too, and these experiences are very common. A lot of these patterns around food start from the foundation beliefs of diet culture, food being used as a reward or punishment, and familial patterns that you learned as a child. It is important to begin recognizing these patterns, and one way you can start is to use a tool called mindful eating that helps you become more aware of your eating. Another approach or mindset to break these patterns was originated by two RDNs and it’s called intuitive eating. The basis of intuitive eating holds to three key principles. Today, I will be detailing short and sweet versions of both mindful eating and intuitive eating that you can begin to use at your next meal.

The Short and Sweet of Mindful Eating

  • Feel your hunger. Starting when we are babies, we learn what hunger feels like; then we learn to cry, get fed, and stop once full. But as adults, those raw feelings of hunger and fullness may not be as clear as they once were. Starting with hunger, it’s important to become aware of what you feel like when truly hungry versus feeling bored, tired, thirsty, or emotional. Next time you think you feel hungry, drink a glass of water and actively move your body for 10 minutes. After those 10 minutes, if the hunger is still there, it is likely that you are truly hungry. If you aren’t hungry, make a mental note of what you think you were: thirsty, bored, tired, or emotional.

  • Feel your fullness with Hara Hachi Bu. Hara hachi bu is a mindful eating practice that originated in Japan. It is the process of filling your plate with only 80% (⅘) of the portion that will make you feel full. If you want dessert after the meal, fill your plate with 66% (⅔) of your normal portion. This allows your body and brain to catch up with your actual fullness.

  • Limit distractions. Distractions or emotional triggers like TV, the news, social media, work talk, multitasking, etc., can create an environment where we aren’t present in the moment and feeling our fullness. Instead, choose to pay attention to each bite of your meal and enjoy every flavor.

The Short and Sweet of Intuitive Eating

  • Eat when your body is truly hungry. As I mentioned earlier, learning to recognize your true hunger is important. Intuitive eating takes this a little bit further, posing that your body’s nutrition ebbs and flows and, in turn, so should the food and amount we eat. Listening to your true hunger over time may lead you to realize that some days your body needs more nutrition and others less, so don’t feel so locked into a set pattern.

  • Stop labeling types of food. Labeling foods as good or bad or defining a whole food group like carbs as comfort is a consequence of diet culture and doesn’t support a healthy mindset regarding food. So instead of labeling food or a food group, just see the food for what it is, like simply a banana. Appreciating each food for what it is can be a great way to reset our food attitudes.

  • Give yourself permission to eat and nourish your body. Food is fuel, delicious, and 100% necessary for a well-lived and thriving life. An intuitive eating approach focuses on being present in the moment when you are nourishing your body and giving yourself permission to eat all food that is nourishing to you. That will look different for each person and learning and choosing your food is part of the exploratory journey.

The key here is that either approach or both can work well for you. They both align in many ways and are great techniques to begin or continue your food and nutrition discovery. Just remember to nourish your body with nutrition and nourish your soul with joy.

Kelly Gosse

Wellness Coach

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