Diet culture is inherently harmful as it only serves to perpetuate unrealistic beauty standards and the thin ideal and thrives off making you feel unsatisfied and insecure in your own body. Its toxicity is being recognised by many who understand the lasting damage it can cause to both a person’s physical and mental health. This has caused a shift in the dieting world and made room for new approaches to food and eating, with mindful and intuitive eating being at the forefront. These two practices are changing the way people view food, and turning what has often been a negative experience for people into a positive one. Instead of counting calories and restricting your food intake, mindful and intuitive eating is about listening to your body and emotions and improving your relationship with food.
Mindful eating incorporates the principles of mindfulness, which is the capacity to bring your full awareness and attention to your experience in the moment, without judgement, to the act of eating. When applying this to food choice and eating, it helps you become aware of your thoughts and feelings and connects you with your inner wisdom about hunger and satiety (feeling satisfied and full).
When mindful eating, you should be paying attention to the sensation in your body and whatever thoughts/emotions that arise during the eating experience. It is also important to go into a meal without preconceived ideas about what you should feel about the food, only that you are curious and ready to listen to your body. This allows you to tune into the textures and tastes and identify what you like about it, how it makes you feel and how much you will eat to feel comfortably satisfied.
There are many benefits to practicing mindful eating, some of which include:
- A better understanding of what foods you enjoy and the ones you dislike.
- Increased awareness of how eating makes you feel during and after meals.
- A better understanding of your motivations for eating, whether it’s because of physical hunger, emotions, or cravings.
- Increased satisfaction, enjoyment, appreciation and gratefulness of your food.
- Decreased feelings of shame and guilt surrounding food due to identifying the non-nutritional benefits of food.
Eating mindfully is something you can practice at every meal or snack time; all you need to remember is to check in and ask yourself some meaningful questions that will make you pay attention to how you’re feeling.
Take a moment to ask:
- How am I feeling? Stressed, relaxed, tired, calm?
- What is motivating me to eat right now? Hunger, comfort, boredom?
- How hungry or full do I feel?
- How does this food taste? Am I enjoying it, do I dislike it?
- Have I had enough food, or should I go back for more?
- How does this food make me feel physically and emotionally?
If intuitive eating sounds a little bit intimidating, you might be surprised to learn that we are actually born intuitive eaters. When we are young, we listen to our body and trust it’s hunger cues, letting us know when we want food and when we are full. But as we have grown, things like diet messaging and societal pressures have influenced the way we interact with food. As adults, we start to see food in categories of good or bad, losing touch with our intuitive eater.
The term intuitive eating was coined in a 1995 book by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch which, like mindful eating, is about listening to your body and eating in response to physical hunger and satiety cues rather than emotional cues, and importantly, not considering certain foods to be forbidden.
There are ten pillars of intuitive eating that guide you through the approach.
- Reject the diet mentality
Not only can diets be harmful to your body but also your mental health. Dieting is the number one risk factor for the development of an eating disorder.
- Honour your hunger
When your body tells you its hungry, make sure you listen to it.
- Make peace with food
There’s no such thing as good and bad foods so give yourself permission to eat what you want to, not what you think is right.
- Challenge the food police
It can be really challenging when it feels as if your mind is at war with you when it comes to food. While you can’t control the first thought, you can control how you react to it. Be kind to yourself and remember that you are worthy of nourishment.
- Discover the satisfaction factor
Eating until you are truly satisfied is a great way to improve your relationship with food.
- Feel your fullness
Take your time while eating to start to recognise what it feels like to be comfortably full.
- Cope with your emotions with kindness
Eating enjoyable food is often a coping mechanism for negative emotions. Try to find the cause of your feelings and if there are other ways to address them besides food.
- Respect your body
Appreciate the body you are in and try to respect it as it is.
- Joyful Movement - feel the difference
Move your body without the pressure of weight loss but for the enjoyment of it.
- Honour your health - gentle nutrition
Use a combination of nutrition knowledge with your internal hunger, satisfaction, and fullness cues to create an optimal relationship with food. Don’t be afraid to get help from a professional if you are finding this process difficult. Contact a dietitian or nutritionist for professional guidance.
Mindful eating and intuitive eating aren’t about changing the amounts or types of food you eat, instead they focus on how a person engages with food, their body, and the eating experience. Remember, every eating experience is unique and there is no right or wrong sensations or feelings.
If you are experiencing body dissatisfaction, disordered eating or eating disorders, call the Butterfly National Helpline on 1800 ED HOPE (1800 33 4673), via webchat or email firstname.lastname@example.org | 7 days a week, 8am-midnight (AEST)
If you’re in a crisis call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or in an emergency call 000.