Mindful, intuitive eating for health: ditching the diet and feeding the soul

Lauren Trahan, MS, RD is a Registered Dietitian. She serves patients in Inova Cardiac and Pulmonary Rehabilitation.

Losing weight can lower your blood pressure, reduce your cholesterol levels and decrease your chances of developing diabetes – all of which are risk factors for heart disease and stroke. The easiest way to lose weight and keep it off is to adopt healthy, sustainable eating habits. Losing just 5% to 10% of your body weight can bring huge benefits to your health.

Most of us know how we should eat to lose weight, but we don’t always understand why we are eating. We often choose unhealthy foods based on emotional cues rather than hunger. Mindfulness increases self-awareness about the feelings that drive our eating patterns. Intuitive eating can help you make peace with food and listen to what your body tells you it needs.

While many people continue to obsess about calories and the scale, others are choosing a healthier approach that focuses on their relationship with food.

How to choose a diet

Healthy weight loss is about one-half to two pounds a week; it is usually gradual and can take time and patience to achieve. Any diet regimen that promises more than a two- pound weight loss each week is usually unsustainable in the long term.

When choosing a diet, ask yourself if you can continue to follow the regimen for an extended period of time – three months, six months, or even one or five years. Be careful about diets that include extreme restrictions and eliminating whole food groups. A balanced diet is important to your health.

What happens when we obsess about dieting

Many studies have shown that restrictive dieting ultimately leads to weight gain. If we restrict our food intake too much, our metabolism can slow and the hormones that regulate hunger and fullness cues can get out of whack. You may overeat not because your spirit is weak, but because your body is trying not to starve. Further, even if you are just contemplating a diet regimen, you may overeat knowing you are going back to a restrictive eating pattern soon.

Shift your perspective

Avoid a dieting mindset that tells you that your food decisions reflect on your worth as a person. You may think that eating “bad” foods makes you a bad, weak or unworthy person, but that is far from the truth.

By reducing your guilt and shame around food and with better body image acceptance, you can develop better eating habits over the long term.

Mindful and intuitive eating

Although based on different principles, both mindful eating and intuitive eating promote self-compassion, self-trust and an improved relationship with food. These techniques can help by reducing guilt and shame around eating and removing a mentality focused on rules and restrictions. They allow us to reconnect with our bodies and decrease a preoccupation with food and with body shape and size.

Mindful eating suggests that we check in with our feelings and emotions even before the first bite. Ask yourself why you are eating and if you are hungry. Eat slowly and limit distractions like working or watching TV, so you can focus on the food.

Reflect on:

  • What did you eat for your last meal?
  • Were you present with your food or distracted by other things?
  • Did you eat because of the time on the clock, or were you hungry?

Intuitive eating encompasses these same principles but also incorporates our emotions and instincts about food. Anxiety, loneliness, boredom and anger are emotions that often trigger us to eat. Instead of running to food, find ways to comfort and distract yourself and focus on how to resolve the issues that are causing these emotions. Food may comfort you in the short term, but it won’t solve the underlying problem.

Guidelines for mindful eating

  • Pay attention to the sensations in your body – the thoughts and emotions that arise during a meal or snack
  • Connect with your body instead of how you “should” feel about the food that you are consuming
  • Tune in to tastes, textures and the nourishing aspects of food
  • Focus on when you begin to feel comfortably satisfied

Benefits of mindful eating

  • Increased awareness of portion sizes
  • Better digestion and absorption
  • Increased enjoyment, satisfaction and pleasure from food
  • Better understanding of motivations for eating (hunger vs. emotions)
  • Increased ability to cope with nonphysical reasons for eating
  • Better ability to avoid overeating

Guidelines for intuitive eating

  • Honor your hunger – check in with your body every two to three hours
  • Make peace with food – nothing is off limits
  • Challenge the food police – replace negative thoughts with positive statements
  • Reject the dieting mentality – resist anything that promises weight loss
  • Give yourself permission to seek pleasure in your eating experience

Benefits of intuitive eating

  • Improved self-esteem and body image
  • Increased body appreciation
  • Decreased emotional eating
  • Decreased disordered eating
  • Improved coping skills

Simple strategies for healthy eating

  • Try smaller plates, bowls and cups
  • Don’t eat from a box or bag
  • Focus on small, balanced meals with small healthy snacks to help your energy levels
  • Eat a variety of whole, natural foods and less packaged and processed items
  • Eat your colors – include lots of fruits and vegetables
  • Drink plenty of water

Maintaining a healthy weight is a lifelong journey. You will increase your chances of success if you focus less on restricting and categorizing foods as good and bad and more on creating a healthy relationship with food and your body.

Watch our webinar to learn more about mindful and intuitive eating.


  1. Altha on July 7, 2024 at 10:36 am

    Thank you, 😊your advise is helping me to stay on track because I do really understand

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