By Caroline Best, Student Intern, and Alex Raymond, RD, LD.
Mindful eating or Intuitive Eating have become such buzzwords this past year. On Instagram, health blogs, and many other forums it’s almost hard to not to see the terms.
And I’m all about it.
Mindful eating focuses on purposely paying attention to your eating–that includes hunger and fullness signals, what you’re truly in the mood to eat and what type of food makes sense to have in that moment. I absolutely love this movement because mindful eating focuses on respecting what your body needs. There is no stipulation of diet rules or categorizing foods as bad or good.
And to me, it signals hope for changing the way we address food and health.
There is so much evidence that traditional dieting not only doesn’t work, but how it can be emotionally draining and damaging. An article in Psychology Today titled “Why Diets Don’t Work…And What Does” by Meg Selig summarizes a lot of this evidence really well. The article describes how most diets “don’t work”, but also goes on to discuss the psychological impacts of dieting, such as an increased risk of disordered eating, mental stress, and taking the joy out of eating
For something like intuitive/mindful eating to have become so popular means there is starting to be some recognition that restrictive attitudes toward food aren’t helpful or healthy. I’ve seen this on many non-diet Instagram accounts and non-diet bloggers.
Mindful eating is so many wonderful things. It is centered around valuing your body and honoring your hunger and fullness and what you need to maintain your energy.
However, we need to talk about what mindful eating is not.
I think this is something that absolutely needs to be addressed, because the diet culture world we live in has latched onto mindful eating and twisted into something that it’s not… which is using mindful/intuitive eating as a tool to change or manipulate your body. Or using it as an “excuse” to skip nourishing yourself when you need to.
Yes, it is great to advocate for paying attention to hunger and fullness. But sometimes we need to nourish ourselves when we aren’t necessarily feeling hunger. For example, last semester I had class 11:30-3:30 on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I didn’t love eating lunch at 11 because I normally wasn’t super hungry for a second meal that time in the day.
However, I recognized the importance of giving myself energy for four straight hours of afternoon class.
I recently heard someone describe this as “Highway in Traffic Eating” and thought it was a perfect analogy. If you’re not super hungry it’s still better to eat something for energy before you do something like drive through bumper to bumper traffic for hours where its hard to get off for food.
Additionally, mindful eating is not a tool to be used to manipulate or change your weight or shape. Being intuitive about your eating means you are learning to trust your body to do what it needs to. You are learning about respecting your body’s signals and honoring them. Whether your body is saying it needs sleep, food, movement, water…etc.
So my input is to be mindful about how you’re using mindful eating.
It’s wonderful and commendable to want to be in tune with what you need and how to best nourish yourself. Paying attention to both hunger and fullness is a part of this. However, not eating a meal at a time when it would be “appropriate”, such as when it’s been a while since you’ve eaten or you’re not going to be able to stop for a meal for a bit , because of “being mindful about not being hungry” is not beneficial to yourself. And changes the basic principles of the movement. Mindful eating is all about providing the body with enough food to maintain energy and keep you nourished. It is not a suggestion to always wait until you’re hungry to eat. Be mindful about your health and nourishment.