If you feel like you’re hearing and seeing information about intuitive and mindful eating everywhere, you’re not imagining it. A recent survey conducted by the International Food Information Council Foundation found nearly 3 in 5 people are interested in learning more about both topics.
For the record, intuitive and mindful eating aren’t the same thing.
- Mindful eating is focused on how you eat in the moment — minimizing distractions and using your senses, for instance.
- Intuitive eating is a distinct set of principles that encourages people to eat according to hunger and fullness cues, stop dieting once and for all and let go of ideas about “good” and “bad” foods.
Experts in these spaces aren’t surprised about the increased interest. “We are all born as mindful and intuitive eaters, but society’s influence teaches us we can’t trust our bodies and we lose the ability to listen to them,” explains Colleen Christensen, RDN.
“I’ve noticed a big increase in people wanting to learn more about intuitive eating,” adds Emma Nacewicz, a certified intuitive eating coach with a degree in nutrition and dietetics. “I’ve seen it spoken about on social media, and I’ve personally been involved in a lot of great conversations around this topic on podcasts, in the comments of posts and in my DMs.”
Put simply, diet culture is a belief system that promotes weight-loss and thinness. “There is a growing trend toward intuitive eating as more and more consumers become suspicious and critical of diet culture,” says Abbey Sharp, RD. “We’re seeing a lot more influencers talking about body acceptance, health at every size, mindful eating and intuitive eating, all of which were not really discussed in mainstream wellness culture a few years ago.” In this context, it makes sense people are looking for ways to approach food and eating that don’t involve strict dieting.
Growing awareness about systemic racism also contributes to diet culture being called out. “Diet culture is deeply rooted in fatphobia and racism,” says Christensen. “We’re taught to think a certain way about what we ‘should’ look like, what ‘success’ looks like, what ‘beauty’ looks like.” People are increasingly questioning the status quo, fad diets and learning to adopt sustainable healthy habits instead.
“Due to the pandemic, a lot of people were forced to confront their relationship with food head-on, and this brought on a lot of stress and anxiety,” says Christensen. When dealing with food shortages and other obstacles to getting the foods they’re used to eating, people may have realized how inflexible their eating habits were, she adds. Many became interested in finding more flexible ways to eat, including branching out with pantry staples and frozen foods. It turns out the middle of the grocery store can be healthy, too.
Dealing with a global pandemic in 2020 also brought changes in what we view as important when it comes to food, notes Alissa Rumsey, MS, RD, author of “Unapologetic Eating: Make Peace with Food and Transform Your Life.” “I’ve had so many people tell me this was the year they realized they were done trying to micromanage their food intake because they want to be able to take this time and energy and spend it on the things and the people that really matter to them.”
Self-care is certainly a buzzword right now. Because of the pandemic, many of the activities we traditionally view as self-care (Think: going to spin classes or getting a massage) have been taken away, Sharp points out. Because of that, we’ve had to recalibrate and find new ways to take care of ourselves. “The big food trends of 2020 were banana bread and sourdough rather than kale and lemon water like we usually see. So, I think a lot of people are trying to find ways to feed their soul while grappling with these more challenging times, and intuitive eating fits that narrative,” Sharp explains. In fact, intuitive eating can be considered a form of self-care, Sharp says, since it’s centered on collecting data about how foods make you feel physically and emotionally.
“I highly recommend purchasing the book by the creators of intuitive eating, called
‘Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Anti-Diet Approach,’” says Nacewicz. You can also learn more from the MyFitnessPal blog about mindful eating techniques and intuitive eating.
Intuitive and mindful eating are trendy right now, which means they’re getting co-opted by the mainstream. “Be critical of influencers who use the term intuitive eating to promote weight-loss or diet culture,” Sharp says. “Intuitive eating is not a weight-loss diet. You may lose weight, you may gain weight, or you may stay the same, but it has nothing to do with whether or not you’re doing intuitive eating ‘right.’”
This is an easy but important step, says Christensen. Unfollow or mute accounts that don’t help your mindful or intuitive eating efforts, and fill your feed with positive, non-diet accounts, she suggests.
It’s OK — and expected — that your shift to a mindful or intuitive approach doesn’t happen overnight. “Learning to eat intuitively, especially after a long period of restriction, is a process,” Sharp says. “You also may not be able to acknowledge or hear your hunger and fullness cues right away, so ‘listening to your body’ will not provide you with enough calories to thrive.” If that’s the case for you, check in with a registered dietitian, who specializes in an intuitive approach. They can help you come up with a plan to get those cues back.
Adopting an intuitive or mindful approach will be a journey. “It’s not a linear path, but rather a process where you learn to sit with the uncomfortable feelings and thoughts that arise,” says Rumsey. ”Rather than trying to ‘fix’ your body, it’s about allowing yourself to reconnect to your body, to sit with the feelings this brings up, and then, in the long run, figure out what health and nutrition mean to you in a way that aligns with your values.”
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