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Mindful Eating & Intuitive Eating: What’s the Difference?

Mindful eating and intuitive eating are both approaches used by non-diet and Health At Every Size® dietitians and clinicians, so it isn’t surprising that many think that they’re one and the same. Although the two complement each other and have significant overlap, there are some important differences.

What is Mindful Eating? What is Intuitive Eating?

I’ve written before about what mindful eating is and isn’t, but briefly, mindful eating is the application of mindfulness practice to eating. What exactly does that mean? As I share in my book, Jon Kabat-Zinn, who is oft considered the Father of Mindfulness, defines mindfulness as “awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally.”

You can see how The Center for Mindful Eating gracefully weaves this definition in with the act of eating, in their principles of mindful eating:

Mindful eating is:

  • Allowing yourself to become aware of the positive and nurturing opportunities that are available through food selection and preparation by respecting your own inner wisdom.
  • Using all your senses in choosing to eat food that is both satisfying to you and nourishing to your body.
  • Acknowledging responses to food (likes, dislikes or neutral) without judgment.
  • Becoming aware of physical hunger and satiety cues to guide your decisions to begin and end eating.

On the other hand, intuitive eating is a framework created by dietitians Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, based on their work in eating disorder recovery. The 10 principles of intuitive eating centre around rejecting diet mentality, making peace with all foods, and attuning to inner cues to help derive satisfaction from eating, and achieve “true health” by combining internal wisdom with external knowledge.

Mindful Eating & Intuitive Eating: Similarities

There are many areas of overlap between mindful eating and intuitive eating. Both approaches don’t prescribe a specific eating pattern, but rather emphasize becoming aware of our inner cues to help make decisions around eating. In other words, mindful eating and intuitive eating aren’t about changing the types or amounts of food that someone eats, and instead focuses on how a person engages with food, their body, and the eating experience.

#MindfulEating and #IntuitiveEating aren't about changing the types or amounts of food that someone eats, but on focusing on how a person engages with food, their body, and the eating experience. Click To Tweet

While both approaches are now considered to be weight-inclusive or weight-neutral (as in, they’re appropriate no matter what size you are, and a change in weight is not the ultimate goal), I think the reason why they are often co-opted for weight loss is that they weren’t explicitly weight-inclusive when they were first created/popularized. This has led to many misconceptions around what the approaches are about, and because in our culture weight loss is often considered “health-promoting” or “self-improvement,” you often see people promoting versions of the “mindful eating diet” or “intuitive eating diet.”

The Center for Mindful Eating has released a position statement stating that it “does not endorse any philosophy or program that includes or promotes weight loss measures or procedures because evidence does not support that it deepens or improves an individual’s mindful eating practice.” More recently, Intuitive Eating (Amazon Associates link) co-creator and co-author Evelyn Tribole has been very vocal about intuitive eating being a weight-inclusive practice.

Mindful Eating & Intuitive Eating: Differences

As you might’ve guessed from the definitions near the beginning of this post, while there are many similarities between mindful eating and intuitive eating, there are some differences. Whereas mindful eating is about being present in the eating experience in a non-judgmental way, intuitive eating is a broader framework that goes outside the eating experience, encouraging people to actively reject external diet messaging and change their relationship with food and their body.

That being said, I would say that while it’s possible to engage in mindful eating without becoming an intuitive eater, I don’t think intuitive eating is possible without some mindfulness. The principles of “Honour Your Hunger,” “Feel Your Fullness,” “Discover the Satisfaction Factor,” and even “Honour Your Feelings Without Food” are all about being present and attuning to your inner cues, without judgment. This overlap is why many weight-inclusive practitioners (myself included) use both in their work, but probably adds to the confusion!

#IntuitiveEating is impossible without #mindfulness - need to be present & practice non-judgmental awareness in order to honour hunger, fullness, satisfaction, and other needs. Click To Tweet

Further Reading

While I’ve briefly presented some of the similarities and differences between mindful eating and intuitive eating here, here are some additional perspectives from some respected colleagues for you to explore:

Were you aware of the differences between mindful eating and intuitive eating? Would you consider yourself a mindful eater, intuitive eater, neither, or both?

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