Mindful and Intuitive Eating

We are pleased to share a post from Director of Nutrition Services Mary Dye, MPH, RD, CDN, LD/N on the complimentary relationship of Mindful and Intuitive Eating, including the ten principles of intuitive eating and the ways in which you can practice mindful eating in your own life. 


Mindful and Intuitive Eating often become confused and used interchangeably. While practicing mindfulness is a necessary step on the path to intuitive eating, the two are actually quite different.

Mindful eating is awareness of all of the components influencing your eating (i.e. emotions, physical cues, timing, access, preference, etc) without judgment. The “without judgment” piece is hugely important as it allows us to observe our eating behaviors without criticizing our patterns.

On the other hand, intuitive eating is a form of attunement of mind, body, and food guided by 10 principles, nicely outlined by Tribole and Resch in their book, “Intuitive Eating.” These principles include eating in response to physical cues (rather than for emotional reasons) along with unconditional permission to eat when cues are present. We are born as intuitive eaters, yet somewhere along the course of life – often we start toying with diets and/or attaching shame and judgment to eating and our bodies, many people lose touch with their internal cues and eat according to external cues such as calorie counts, body weight, rules regarding timing or judgments of “good” and “bad” foods. In intuitive eating we let these external forces go and rely on our internal cues.

10 Principles to Intuitive Eating:

  1. Reject the Diet Mentality
  2. Honor Your Hunger
  3. Make Peace with Food
  4. Challenge the Food Police
  5. Respect Your Fullness
  6. Discover the Satisfaction Factor
  7. Honor Your Feelings Without Using Food
  8. Respect Your Body
  9. Exercise–Feel the Difference
  10. Honor Your Health

Our aim at OPC is to really dive into the work of mindfulness by noticing what impacts our food choices and responses to food both internally and externally. We discuss everything from what judgments might be held about the food itself, what emotions might be experienced that impact hunger and fullness cues, how the food feels in our bodies and what foods truly satiate us. For instance, when someone reports feeling a lack of hunger before a meal, we dig in and discuss if any emotions might be masking their hunger cue or if a long-held judgment over the food being served is impacting their readiness to have the meal. By acknowledging all of these facets to eating openly to seek support we can help women re-engage in their intuitive cues and learn to respond to them appropriately.

A part of our work that we take very seriously as a clinical team is our modeling of mindful eating behaviors to our clients. There’s something very powerful about women eating and acknowledging their need and desire for food. In our culture it is all too common to hear of women depriving themselves and striving to alter their bodies and deny their need and desire for food. Yes, we’re a busy group of clinicians, but we make time to nourish our bodies in a mindful manner. Our client’s see that and share in it – I believe it is a key to their healing process. I’d love to see more women promoting mindful and intuitive eating to one another. And don’t even get me started on the need for more positive body talk!

At the table we promote the entire mindful experience; considering every detail from a beautiful tablescape and relaxing environment without distractions to thoughtful conversation so clients can fully engage with the meal experience. These are details I find so important in the promotion of mindfulness, whether a person is recovering from an eating disorder or not. Learning to differentiate emotional and physical forms of hunger, fullness, and satiety are a preliminary step to intuitive eating in all of our lives. In doing this we find that sometimes what is needed to satiate us isn’t even food.

As a mother of a 3 year old, I understand how hard it can be to remain mindful on a daily basis. Often, dinner time in my house can feel rushed and distracted after a day of work, the need to start a bath, and complete a pre-schooler’s bedtime routine. It is so important to check in with cues and assess fullness and satiation to ensure intuitive cues are being honored. I sometimes find that what’s lacking for satiation is something as simple as the chance to sit outside after being inside all day or to have a deep conversation with an old friend. Other times, I just need some ice cream. It’s all about taking each eating experience one at a time and not judging what your body needs in that moment, but answering it and moving on. Really, how can any of us feel confident in our food choices and enjoy food if we have a constant feeling of shame and doubt when choosing food and eating it?


Ways you can practice mindful eating:

  • Sit down at the table to eat without added distractions (yes, I mean turn off the TV)
  • Step away from the package and take the time to put all foods on a dish
  • Schedule in breaks from meals and snacks rather than munching while working, driving, or studying
  • Take time before meals to appreciate the color, aroma, texture, and care taken in the meal prep
  • While eating, note the flavors and textures of your food
  • Keep food and body talk positive both at and away from the table
  • Remember: Food is food; it can nourish our bodies but it can’t solve our problems