Mindful eating, intuitive eating, and conscious eating are all terms used to describe a style of eating that uses internal cues about hunger, appetite, and satiety to guide our relationship with food. When we are attuned to our bodies and able to listen to them, we can know what to eat and when to eat. The focus is on learning a conscious diet that helps our body to feel and function well. Dieting, restricting, counting calories or fat grams, and focusing on weight are NOT part of mindful eating. Mindful eaters eat when they are hungry and stop when they are full. They eat the foods they are hungry for. There is no list of “good” and “bad” foods.
In short, mindful eating is the way people who have a healthy relationship with food, who don’t struggle with weight, and who aren’t on a diet, have been eating all along.
When people are introduced to mindful eating, they often panic. “If there are no rules, I eat all day.” In the short term some people do Eat more, but mindful eating doesn’t mean eating with devotion. Mindful eating means eating consciously, being aware of the present moment; be aware of hunger and satiety; being aware of your appetite and what you are really hungry for. Mindful or intuitive eating involves learning to be aware of the difference between hunger and other eating stimuli, such as painful emotions, boredom, or fatigue.
The secret to the success of mindful or intuitive eating is this: you need to remember or relearn how to eat mindfully – without shame, guilt, fear and with careful attention to your body and what it needs and wants. To do this, you must also learn what to do when given what your body and mind need and want Not Food. You must learn to respectfully listen to your body and to nourish your body and mind without food when food is not what is required.
Since 1995 I have been working with individuals to help them break unhealthy cycles of dieting, restriction, binge eating and overeating by building mindful or conscious eating habits. There are two essential components to creating a lasting habit of mindful eating.
1. A mindful check-in practice
The goal of mindful eating is to end both the obsession with food/nutrition and the automatic pilot with food/eating. To be successful, you must develop a consistent method of checking in – staying connected to yourself and what you feel and need so you can address those needs and wants and avoid emotional eating. You need to find a practice that works for you and fits your personality and strengths. If the practice you choose doesn’t suit you, you won’t stick with it.
This can be something you do daily when you get up in the morning or before a meal, or when you get home from work. The only requirements are that it’s done consistently and that it’s something that helps you focus inward without distractions. It’s often useful to have a few ways to mindfully check in at different times of your day.
Examples of possible mindfulness check-ins: mindfulness meditation, journaling or free writing, walking or running, prayer or contemplative time.
People often start writing. It might be helpful to write about what’s on your mind for fifteen minutes each morning. It’s helpful, especially in the beginning, to keep an emotion/nutrition journal—note how you’re feeling and how hungry you are before you eat. The process of writing slows you down and forces you to think about your food – to be mindful.
2. A support system
It is very important to have people (or one person) who support your belief system and encourage you not to diet. Your support system should honor your goals, celebrate your achievements, and help you stay accountable for being who you want to be. Your support system can help you be consistent with your mindfulness practice. Your supporters know it’s you Not your weight or your clothing size. They are there for you when you doubt yourself or your path and when you hit roadblocks or find yourself in a place or feeling where you don’t know what to do. They can help you figure it out What to do when you know you’re not hungry but want to turn to food.
People create this support system in a variety of places. Your support may be available in friends you already have. Sometimes, however, the diet mindset is so ingrained in our families or social circles that it can be helpful to look outside of your current life for support. A group, an online message board, or an intuitive eating class can be very helpful.
Sometimes people choose to work with someone individually. As a personal coach, I work with individuals to help them successfully emerge from a diet mentality and develop meaningful mindfulness check-in strategies that recognize and utilize their particular strengths. We work together to get through the scary parts of not counting calories and weighing. In some situations, a therapist can help you move beyond emotional eating. If you find that the emotions behind your eating are overwhelming or if a diet feels out of control, consider working with a therapist who specializes in these issues.
Remember, mindful eating is about putting your relationship with food in perspective. When we do this successfully, we find that it means developing new ways of taking care of ourselves without resort to food or diet. It’s challenging, but the rewards are huge. Developing mindful check-in practices and a solid support system creates a solid foundation for success.
Thanks to Melissa McCreery, PhD