Why mind-body connection is so important for intuitive eating
Emotional eating and obsessive food thoughts can result from poor mind-body connection in eating.
As we understand more about the benefits of mediation, yoga and other practices that support mind-body connection, we are typically taught to distrust our body when it comes to eating. Food rules and body ideals are still more trusted than our own body’s wisdom to eat intuitively.
But mind-body connection is also a powerful tool in being able to peacefully nourish our bodies without stressing over food.
If you experience obsessive food thoughts, cravings, emotional eating or a stressful relationship with food, this article will help you learn how to improve your mind-body connection to become an intuitive eater and stop stressing about food.
What is intuitive eating?
Intuitive eating is an evidence-based framework to guide us back to eating naturally, without guilt and with connection to our body.
Unlike other approaches to support eating which tell you what, when and/ or how much to eat, intuitive eating doesn’t have any food rules. In fact, intuitive eaters eat in so many different ways.
Intuitive eating is all about developing trust with your own body to be your number one guide. Food knowledge may support you, but not take over. And importantly, food and eating holds no morality, no good/ bad mindset and therefore no guilt or shame.
Mind-body connection in intuitive eating
Mind-body connection is the backbone to intuitive eating. In fact, all 10 principles of intuitive eating work towards:
- Removing obstacles to mind-body connection or
- Strengthening your mind-body connection.
Scientifically, mind-body connection is called interoception. It is one of the senses we have to help navigate the world. Unlike the 5 common senses we learn about in school (sight, touch, hearing, taste and smell) which help us navigate the environment around us; interoception is our way of understanding what is happening inside our body.
Interoception is your awareness of the sensations that arise from inside your body and you feel inside your body. No one else can feel this except you.
These sensations inside your body are the language your body uses to communicate with you.
When we are understanding this language, we are able to notice and then trust the communication from our body and work together (mind and body) to get our needs met.
But if we are not quite feeling or understanding this language, we can end up in a fight between our body and our mind. Our body is trying to tell us what it needs but our mind is using the outside knowledge and rules instead.
These food rules can never tells us exactly what our own unique body needs. Overtime, this doesn’t feel good and we can end up feeling stress over food and towards our body.
What can mind-body connection tell us
Our mind-body connection is how our body communicates to our mind the things it needs. The 3 key areas that are communicated this way are:
- Self care needs such as needing to pee, needing rest or movement, needing sleep or connection or alone time and other basic needs.
- Food and eating such as our hunger, fullness and satisfaction cues
- Our emotions such as happiness, stress, calmness, anger - all of our emotions are felt through sensations that occur inside our body.
Intuitive eaters are shown to have greater interoceptive awareness than non-intuitive eaters. That is, greater awareness and trust with our body’s communication or, simply, better mind-body connection. This makes sense since the backbone of intuitive eating is developing mind-body connection.
Intuitive eating is not only shown to help feel good around food but also to feel good in our bodies, to be better able to cope with emotion without turning to food and have overall improved life satisfaction.
What stops us having strong mind-body connection
We are all born with an ability to navigate food and self care. Although genetic differences such as neurodiversity may naturally change our connection with body states to some extent, we all have a basic ability to navigate food.
And then we are thrown into a diet culture. A world with ideals around what bodies should look like, what food we should eat, value and morality placed on our bodies and food choices and a really simplistic way of viewing food, bodies and health.
Body diversity is normal but we are taught narrow ideals of what we should look like. Food provides so much more than nutrients but we are taught to feel shame over eating for emotion, enjoyment and connection. Health is so nuanced, diverse and complex but we are taught that it’s all about nutrition and exercise.
These messages and experiences can make us feel that our body cannot guide us, that our bodies are wrong and the outside messages and rules about how to eat, how to move and what we should look like are more accurate and trustworthy than our own innate wisdom.
How we can improve our mind-body connection in intuitive eating
The good news is, even if we can’t remember ever having trust with our body’s communication to guide our eating, it is possible to rebuild our mind-body connection.
If it is available to you, it may be helpful to seek professional support from a Certified Intuitive Eating Counsellor. Here’s some helpful tips to get started yourself:
1. Understand why you feel disconnected
You are not broken. There is nothing wrong with you or your body. Understanding why you feel disconnected from your body can bring new confidence with your body.
I invite you to explore your food story - the food narrative and experiences you have learnt throughout your life which can give you a clearer picture of what has shaped your relationship with food.
2. Creating trust with your body
This means building trust with your body but also your body building trust with you. And just like in any relationship, it will take time and consistency for your body to begin to trust that it is listened to.
You may like to write a letter to your body to signal the beginning of a trusting relationship.
3. Honouring your body’s needs
When you do notice your body’s communication, don’t fight it! At the very least, if you feel hungry - allow yourself to eat.
So often we try to “trick” our bodies by drinking coffee or eating a low calorie food but this will leave you more disconnected from your body, and probably thinking about food all day.
4. Body scan
By Scanning down from your head to your toes, a body scan brings awareness to the sensations in different parts of your body.
Start by bringing curious awareness to the sensations you feel inside. If you are able you may like to start naming the sensations you feel and maybe start to explore what need or emotion it may be representing.
Intuitive eating is a powerful evidence-based framework that supports you to stop turning to stressful food rules by developing mind-body connection to guide your eating.
Your mind-body connection allows you to understand exactly what your own body needs instead of relying on generic food rules and health advice.
It is possible to improve your mind-body connection by creating trust with your body, honouring its hunger and practising feeling the different sensations your body uses to communicate.
Written by Emma Townsin, Registered Dietitian and Certified Intuitive Eating Counsellor
Emma is the founder of Food Life Freedom and the host of the Food & Life Freedom Podcast. For personalised support to stop stressing over health and heal your relationship with food and your body, learn how you can fast track your way food and life freedom.
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