What is Intuitive Eating?

by Emily Marr, MS, RD of @marrvelouseats

What is intuitive eating? Mindful eating? Food freedom? Health at every size? Intuitive eating, or “mindful” eating, is an individual process that involves listening to and honoring your bodies hunger cues to fulfill both physiological and psychological needs. However, as I will talk about below, this clear-cut definition is controversial. Our society has been consumed in this “diet culture” that we have forgotten how powerful and smart our bodies are. There is so much information, especially on social media, that it is easy for the consumer to get overwhelmed or confused. One thing I want to emphasize is - you are not alone. Even health gurus’ “influencers”, and individuals with degrees, may feel the same way at times. We are all human.

Let me introduce myself. Hi, I am Emily Marr, a 26-year-old Registered Dietitian living and working in Orange County, California. Even though I am an RD and have my master’s in clinical dietetics, I am not a “perfect” eater and definitely do not know everything. One thing I want all the readers to remember is that all us health professionals are human too. Some of us have a past that has made us want to go into this field in the first place; living, learning, and evolving just like everyone else. So please, no matter what I say or what they say, do whatever feels right for YOU! This is the magic of intuitive eating, it is a process, that involves listening to YOU.

Ok now that I got that out, let’s move on to my journey and understanding of intuitive/mindful eating. The definition above of intuitive eating is the most concise way to define it. However, in my opinion, intuitive/mindful eating does not have a single definition, a one-size-fits-all approach, or a clear-cut rule to follow. Let’s look at the broken-down definitions…

1. Intuitive: using or based on what one feels to be true even without conscious reasoning; Instinctive.

2. Mindfulness: a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one's feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations.

(Oxford Dictionary definitions)

These things are very individual and based on the present moment. Your definition right now may be different from your definition next month. Your definition also depends on your experiences in life. Someone in recovery from anorexia nervosa will have a different definition than someone with binge eating disorder, or someone who is an overeater. A competitive athlete’s definition will be different than a CEO in a high-power company. The definition of someone with more disposable or flexible income will be different than someone who’s finances are tighter. 

I know I am not giving you any clear answers here, but I think there is so many “answers” out there, that we have lost our sense of self. Instead of individuals listening to their own body, our society has begun listening to what someone online is telling them. Even though this can be very powerful and informative, it is not a fact, it is just their personal experience.

Let me give you a few helpful tips:

1. Slow down while eating! - Take the time to notice how your food looks, smells, tastes and feels in your body. Really chew your food and notice your satiety cues instead of shoveling it in. Eating should be a relaxing and pleasurable experience.

2. Ask yourself what you would choose right now if there were no “rules” - “Do I want a cookie, even though I have not eaten dinner yet?” “I know I have food prepped, but does going out to sushi with my friend sound better?” What is something that would satisfy your hunger both emotionally and physically?

3. FOOD IS FUEL! - Remember, all food serves a purpose: carbs, protein, fats, micronutrients; all serve to nourish your body and give you energy. Even a cookie has all the nutrients, as well as fuel for the soul. Food should never be feared, it should be enjoyed- so go enjoy every bite! 

I guess what I’m saying is, take the time to learn about what foods make you feel your best, both physically and mentally. Life is more than the food you eat, it’s about the experiences the food can bring and the fuel for life it provides you.