W e’ve been experiencing a shift lately in the dieting world – people are starting to recognize the harms of dieting and starting to call out diet culture for its negative impacts on our health and well-being. Unfortunately, diet culture is sneaky and it has rebranded itself to “wellness culture”. Things that were once simply called a diet are marketing themselves now as a “lifestyle change”, with just as many rules and restriction and negative impacts on our relationship with food and body as before.
If you’ve experienced the negative impacts of dieting, such as increased preoccupation and anxiety with food, increased preoccupation with your body shape/size, overeating/binge eating, low energy, increased cravings, guilt/shame… you’ve likely felt completely defeated at times and put the blame of failure onto yourself, even though it was never your fault. Side note, there is no judgement or shame for wanting to diet, we live in a messed-up culture that elevates certain body types over others and oppresses larger bodied individuals, but that’s a whole other discussion.
For many of us, we get trapped in the dieting cycle and feel that there is no way out, no way to possibly trust or connect with our bodies in a way that brings peace with food. We’ve been told that in order to “eat healthy” we must have discipline, rules and restriction. Mindful eating and intuitive eating allow us to reconnect with our bodies and help us work towards breaking this dieting cycle.
“Mindfulness is the capacity to bring full attention and awareness to one’s experience, in the moment, without judgment. Mindful Eating brings mindfulness to food choice and the experience of eating. Mindful eating helps us become aware of our thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations related to eating, reconnecting us with our innate inner wisdom about hunger and satiety.” - The Centre for Mindful Eating
In other words, mindful eating is paying attention to the sensations in our body and the thoughts/emotions that arise during a meal, snack or eating experience. Rather than coming into a meal with pre-conceived ideas on how we should feel about this food (e.g. guilty for enjoying something we love or proud for sticking to a diet rule), we come into the eating experience curious and ready to listen/connect with our bodies. This allows us to tune into the tastes, textures, nourishing aspects of the food, as well as identify what we like about it, how it makes us feel, and how much we would like to eat to feel comfortably satisfied. Every eating experience is unique and there is no right or wrong sensations or feelings.
Eating mindfully provides many benefits, such as:
How do we incorporate mindfulness while eating?
Check out this raisin eating exercise as an example of mindful eating: https://ggia.berkeley.edu/practice/raisin_meditation
We are born intuitive eaters. When we’re young, we trust our body’s cues, which let us know when we are hungry and need food, and when to pull away or push food away when we are full/satisfied. Unfortunately, as we age, things like diet messaging, rules of having to finish our food before leaving the table, or "nutrition education" that categorizes foods as “good” or “bad”, result in us losing touch with our intuitive eater.
Intuitive Eating and its 10 principles were developed by two dietitians Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch in 1995. The most recent fourth edition was released in June 2020. Intuitive eating encompasses the principles of mindful eating, but extends further to incorporate your instinct, emotion and rational thoughts about food to help you to move past fear and judgement and find true satisfaction and peace when eating. It is an evidence-based, mind-body health approach that helps us to break free from the diet mentality.
Here’s an overview of the 10 concepts of intuitive eating:
1. Reject the diet mentality
Action to try: When you see or hear diet messages, or think a diet mentality thought - identify and name it. For example, stop to identify rules you have in regards to food, such as “I shouldn’t eat after 7pm”, “I should only eat foods from the perimeter of the store”, “I shouldn’t eat anything with added sugar” (anything that is rigid and has no flexibility is a rule). Calling out these thoughts is the first step towards repairing our relationship with food.
2. Honour your hunger
Action to try: Check in with your body every 2-3 hours throughout the day to identify if your body needs energy/fuel. Keep snacks on hand so when you feel hunger coming on, you can honour it right away!
3. Make peace with food
Action to try: Think about a food that you usually don’t allow yourself to have (e.g. ice cream, cookies, chips, fries). Go purchase that food and keep it in your house from now on so its fully available and you have full permission to eat it. When you crave it/enjoy it, engage in mindful eating (see above). Anytime you honour that craving, you’re gradually restoring your body’s trust that you will listen to what it asks for and that there are no restrictions.
4. Challenge the food police
Action to try: when you notice a food police thought (e.g. "this cake is high in calories and will make me gain weight"), replace it with a positive alternative statements (e.g. "If I eat this cake, I will get to enjoy my friends baking, feel satisfied, and give my body energy."
5. Discover the satisfaction factor
Action to try: consider what foods seems truly satisfying to you right now in this moment. Is it crunchy, warm, sweet, cold, savoury? What about that food makes it satisfying?
6. Feel your fullness
Action to try: check in with your hunger/fullness level at the first bite, the mid-meal bite, and the last bite of your meal. Start to identify what a comfortable fullness level feels like for you.
7. Cope with your emotions with kindness
Action to try: make a list of all the emotions that often drive you to eat (e.g. loneliness, boredom, stress, anxiety, sadness) and list as many coping strategies beside each one that you can think of to address those unwanted emotions
8. Respect your body
Action to try: make a list of ways that you can show your body respect, meet its basic needs, and keep it comfortable on a regular basis. You can also consider making a list of things that you appreciate about your body, what does it do for you each day that you appreciate?
9. Movement - feel the difference
Action to try: consider the intention behind your movement? Is it to change your body or to feel good in your body?
10. Honour your health - gentle nutrition
Action to try: when able, try to balance your meals by incorporating an enjoyable protein-rich food, starches, fats, and vegetables/fruit to optimize your energy levels throughout the day and overall health
There are hundreds of research studies that have shown the benefits of intuitive eating, such as:
Neither mindful eating nor intuitive eating are diets or rules to follow, and neither should be promoted for the purposes of losing weight or to change body size/shape. If anyone is marketing mindful or intuitive eating for the purposes of weight loss – run in the other direction. I should note that connecting with your body may not be possible or safe for everyone. If you’ve experienced trauma or are struggling with an eating disorder, these tools may not be appropriate for you right now and that’s okay. If you’re interested in learning more about these tools and if they could be helpful in your life, connect with a registered dietitian who is well-versed in both.
Mindful eating and intuitive eating are two strategies that you can use to reconnect to your here-and-now body and learn to trust, connect with and respect it again, ultimately breaking the dieting cycle and improving your relationship with food.
Written by Liz Powell, RD and Joy TangResources: https://www.intuitiveeating.org/ https://www.thecenterformindfuleating.org/