You've probably heard about intuitive eating or mindful eating. Unfortunately, since they are hard to describe in a sound bite, you likely have been given the overly simplified description or worse, an inaccurate one. To help clear up any misunderstandings, I'd like to tell you what they are not rather than what they are.
Intuitive eaters do NOT eat everything, all the time
Yes, an important aspect is giving yourself permission to eat whatever you want, whenever you want, BUT this does not lead to gorging day and night. In fact, by opening the door to all foods and removing the food rules that restrict you from eating certain foods, cravings and binging actually are reduced. It may seem scary and counterintuitive, but studies (and the experience of intuitive eaters) show that foods no longer hold such power or are so dearly desired when we keep the option to eat them open.
Next time you are feeling emotional and start to crave a certain food strongly, resist the urge to scream NO and instead, tell yourself you can have it if you really want it. Over time, by knowing we have the option to eat anything, there is far less deprivation and backlash from rigid rules forbidding foods. We naturally want what we can't have. Allowing foods prevents this rebel to come out in response to the restriction.
Intuitive eating is NOT well represented by "the raisin exercise"
You may have heard about "the raisin exercise." This is a mental exercise that practices being mindful and fully present while eating one raisin slowly while paying attention to all your senses. The point is to slow down and take time to observe your senses (smell, touch, taste, etc.), something that we rarely do with our food these days. By paying attention to the look, smell, and feel of food, we experience eating more deeply and with more enjoyment which can lead to eating more naturally in line with our hunger. Enjoyment and satisfaction play a big role in indicating when it is time to stop eating. So when we experience more of them, we are less likely to eat beyond fullness in search of satisfaction that we are too distracted to experience.
Unfortunately, this raisin exercise is usually people's first (and last) exposure to intuitive eating. Since it is an awkward exercise to do without prior context or understanding, it can turn people off. Taking five minutes to eat one little raisin can make eating a full meal "mindfully" feel daunting! The point is not to eat every meal or food as you do the raisin, but to understand just how much sensory information we are ignoring when eating mindlessly.
Intuitive and mindful eating is NOT about eating with chopsticks
You may have heard this piece of advice leftover from the '90s. Eating with chopsticks or with your non-dominant hand will slow down your pace at a meal (which may help you sense your fullness cues), but this is not "intuitive eating."
Slowing down may help you become more intuitive if you pay attention to how your body feels while eating. Remember that feeling full in your stomach is only ONE reason we stop eating. As mentioned above, feeling satisfied in your mind plays a role too. If you are looking to eat more slowly, these suggestions may help but so can many other things that are more likely to improve your intuitive eating skills- such as purposefully pausing in the middle of a meal to check in with your fullness levels, enjoyment of the meal, thoughts and emotions you are experiencing and even the intensity of the flavor you are experiencing (which decreases throughout the meal).
Intuitive and mindful eating is NOT about being mindful to avoid "bad" foods
The definition of 'mindful" in mindful eating is not about being aware of information outside of your body, but about hearing and understanding what is going on inside. Meaning: being mindful (or aware) of the thoughts and emotions going on in your head; mindful of how certain people or places affect your portions, food choices, thoughts, emotions; mindful how your emotional state affects your eating and food choices; mindful of how your coping strategies (ie. eating to sooth) help or don't help you to feel better.
In this sense of the word, the term mindful is not interchangeable with "careful." A more appropriate word that can be interchanged with mindfulness is "awareness." In fact, intuitive and mindful eating advocate that you remove "good" and "bad" labels we place on foods to help you have a healthy relationship with food and your body.
You are NOT required to eat in silence, abolish your screens or savor Every. Single. Bite.
Not being able to pay 100 per cent attention to each bite is NORMAL. Realistically, there will be moments in our day where more than one thing has to happen at once. The problem arises when we are always distracted while eating our food. The goal is to practice slowly making time to eat with fewer distractions. This may be the first three sips of tea or a whole meal. Whatever works for you.
Also, being a mindful and intuitive eater isn't just about the moments while we are eating. It includes checking in with our stomach and mind before, during and after eating. Being mindful during the moments that surround eating also play a big role.
Intuitive eating is possible for everyone.
Eating more intuitively takes practice, which requires time, something many of us are lacking. However, even taking a minute or two regularly can help you feel more in tune with your body and its need for nourishment. Joining a local group and speaking with others who are also looking to eat more mindfully can do wonders too!
If past experiences of trying to adopt intuitive or mindful eating have not been positive, read this for some insight of what may have gone wrong.