Mindful eating vs intuitive eating: One path to food freedom?


If you’ve been exploring how to improve your relationship with food, you’ve probably come across terms like “mindful eating” and “intuitive eating” and wondered if they are one and the same. Although they share similarities, mindful eating and intuitive eating serve two different purposes on your journey to food freedom.


Let’s first define what mindful eating and intuitive eating are, then explore how mindful and intuitive eating together can help you nurture a more positive relationship with food and your body.

What is mindful eating?


Mindfulness has been around for centuries, originating from ancient eastern and Buddhist philosophy. Mindfulness centers your focus on your thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations in the present moment. Mindful eating involves using all of your physical and emotional senses to experience the meal and the eating environment to the fullest.


Using all 5 senses allows you to experience food in new and exciting ways.

Instead of focusing on judgment or perceived morality of the food, mindful eating encourages you to consider pleasure, satisfaction, and nourishment as they choose what foods to eat and how much of them to consume.


Mindful eating also encourages you to check in with your body and your hunger and fullness cues before and after eating. If you’d like to try mindful eating for yourself, check out this guided mindful eating video.

What is intuitive eating?


Whereas mindful eating really focuses on the eating experience and grounding yourself and your thoughts in the moment before, during, and after the meal, intuitive eating is a larger, non-diet eating framework.


Intuitive eating is a set of ten principles designed to help you move away from restrictive dieting patterns and nourish a healthier relationship with food. Intuitive eating involves rejecting the dieting mentality, challenging food rules, and changing your mindset around “good” and “bad” foods.


If you’d like to know more about the ten intuitive eating principles, check out this blog here.

Are mindful eating and intuitive eating similar?


Mindful eating and intuitive eating do share similarities. Intuitive eating also encourages the use of your hunger, fullness, and satisfaction cues to change the way you think about and experience food as you eat. Intuitive eating teaches you the skills to be able to practice mindful eating—skills that you may have never learned or forgotten if you’ve spent many years dieting.


Mindful eating and intuitive eating are also similar in that they do not encourage the use of morality statements around food. When eating mindfully and intuitively, there is no use for words like “good” or “bad,” “healthy” or “unhealthy” around food. All foods are morally neutral, and all foods have the potential to satisfy hunger and promote fullness and satisfaction.

Can mindful or intuitive eating help you lose weight?


Another similarity that mindful eating and intuitive eating have is that neither were designed for the purpose of dieting or weight loss. 

Although mindful eating and intuitive eating are both terms that have been recently co-opted by the dieting world, neither are aligned with any dieting program on the market today.


Both mindful eating and intuitive eating are weight inclusive, meaning that anyone at any weight can practice mindful eating or intuitive eating in their lives. While it may be true that some people who practice mindful or intuitive eating will lose weight, others may gain weight or have their weight stay exactly the same.


Gaining weight or losing weight is not considered a metric of success for how well you are mindfully or intuitively eating. In fact, using intuitive eating as a diet, or to create a new set of food rules, is exactly what the creators of intuitive eating discourage.


If you’d like to understand more about intuitive eating and your weight, check out this blog here.

How do you know whether mindful or intuitive eating is right for you?


Mindful eating vs intuitive eating—how do you know which one is best for you? Start by taking the brief intuitive eating assessment, offered by the creators of the intuitive eating framework. The assessment is broken down into three categories and is designed to help you understand what aspects of your relationship with food may need improvement.


If you score high (check many boxes) in the third section of the assessment, “Reliance on Internal Hunger/Satiety Cues,” you may struggle with mindful eating at first. You might find it helpful to practice exercises in the Intuitive Eating Workbook designed to help you hone your skills at recognizing and honoring your hunger, fullness, and satiety cues.


Even if you do not decide to pursue intuitive eating, you may find incorporating more mindfulness into your meals could help you decrease food anxiety and/or emotional eating tendencies and increase confidence in your eating decisions. Eating more slowly and with more intention could also decrease GI discomfort and indigestion and improve nutrient density and dietary quality.

Kristin Jenkins, MS, RD is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist. Kristin specializes in eating disorders and intuitive eating, and is an advocate for weight-inclusive care for all her clients.