I made a post on TikTok this week about intuitive eating, which generated some questions from folks, so I threw a quick post up on the website about it. Intuitive eating is one of those things that is deceptively simple. It’s easy to explain but, for those of us with a messed up relationship with food, incredibly hard to do.
Sometimes when people are new to intuitive eating, they get it confused with what’s called mindful eating, which is a practice where you purposefully bring your attention to what you’re eating and how your body feels while eating it. You often read about mindful eating occurring in silence, allowing all participants to be fully engaged with their food without the distraction of conversation. Mindful eating has a spiritual gloss to it, in the sense that, like other mindfulness practices, it’s meant to enhance your connection to the present moment, the place where we do all of our living.
It’s different from intuitive eating in a number of ways. In a sense, the biggest way that intuitive eating and mindful eating diverge is with everything that happens before you actually sit down to eat. Intuitive eating is about giving yourself allowance to respond to the cues and demands of your body’s hunger. It’s about feeling entitled to “legalize” all different kinds of foods, which in turn equalizes everything in your fridge as just one more possible choice (rather than, say, putting those foods in a hierarchy of “healthy” to “unhealthy”).
For some, mindful eating is one of the last stops on their dieting journey before they finally arrive at intuitive eating. It certainly was for me. So desperate was I to find a solution to my “food issues” once and for all, I took a 6-week mindful eating course to learn how to do it.
I laugh when I think of it now. Mindfulness, as a meditative practice, is about opening yourself up to a vast expanse of space inside you. But mindful eating—for me, at least—was about swapping out one set of food rules for another. And like any other set of food rules, it was about constricting myself and making myself small. There was nothing spacious about it at all.
Instead, I sat for six weeks in a circle with a bunch of other presumed control freaks and engaged in spiritual bypassing. Instructors taught us eat slowly, carefully, as though eating was not a natural biological impulse but something that could break us. We discussed techniques for tuning in to our hunger and fullness to learn to rate it on a scale of 1 to 10. Eat until you’re an 8 out of 10 on the fullness scale, they said, providing my diet-addled brain with yet another measuring stick that I could either live up to or fail and feel guilty about.
The funniest part was doing exercises that involved getting kinda dirty with a raisin: holding it between your fingers, running it along your lips, inhaling it deeply. When we were “allowed” to put the raisin in our mouths, we were told to observe the texture, the flavour, how it changed the longer we resisted the urge to bite it.
Control, control, control, is what I learned—but just don’t call it a diet.
But that’s just it: while mindful eating has different rules than a diet, it has rules nonetheless—and that’s what makes it a diet. And it’s those rules that create rebellion, inner chaos, and the screaming matches between your mind and your body that just never seem to end.
Intuitive eating, on the other hand, doesn’t create rules for how you eat. Rather, by eating intuitively, you have a vast expanse of eating options available to you, all of which are safe and morally neutral. You can eat quietly or loudly, boisterously or luxuriously, slow or fast—whatever really suits you on a given day for a given meal in a given moment. The goal is to create a relaxed, easygoing relationship with food, in full acceptance that what and how you may want to eat could change on a day to day basis.
This is why I don’t teach my clients mindful eating. Instead of encouraging them to savour a fuckin’ raisin and resist, resist, resist, we find ways to listen to what information their bodies are ACTUALLY trying to give them.
The irony, of course, is that this feels like the most mindful thing of all.
If you feel drawn to intuitive eating but need help to understand what it could mean for you, let’s talk. Book a call with me and let’s discuss the life beyond the diet-binge cycle that is calling to you.