Updated: Oct 29, 2020
So maybe you want to be an intuitive eater, but you feel like it won’t mean putting your health first. You’ve heard a few things about intuitive eating that make you think it sounds totally unhealthy. You think that all you will want to eat is pizza and ice cream all day every day.
Where does nutrition come into play here you may be asking?
The 10th principle of Intuitive Eating is honoring your health with gentle nutrition.
What the heck is "gentle" nutrition may you ask?
This is a great question and confusing concept to understand if you are new to intuitive eating. Let me break down gentle nutrition for you here so you can understand that intuitive eating is a health focused approach to eating and not suggesting you eat cookies, pizza and ice cream 24/7.
Gentle nutrition is all about making food choices that honor both your overall health AND your taste buds while still making you feel well. Eating perfectly is not what intuitive eating is about. There is no perfect way of eating. Healthy eating is having a healthy balance of foods and having a healthy relationship with food.
So let’s get to it. What does gentle nutrition look like exactly?
That is a difficult question to answer because it looks a little different for everyone. Now I know you may want to roll your eyes at this answer because as usual, there is no one size fits all approach, but truth be told, what looks healthy for you and your lifestyle, will likely not be healthy for me! You get to decide what gentle nutrition looks like in your life. Health is not determined by your body size and it is so much more than just food and fitness. Here are a few examples of what gentle nutrition can look like:
Cooking the majority of your meals at home using fresh ingredients from the farmers market in the summer
A busy mom deciding to meal prep on Sunday to make sure she has easy to grab foods that make her feel better than running through the fast food drive through
Following guidelines for a low sodium diet and incorporating more whole and fresh foods to help manage a chronic condition
Starting your day with a good breakfast versus skipping it and being ravenous by the time lunch rolls around
Utilizing convenience foods (canned or frozen) when you know you have a busy week ahead and won’t have much time for preparing meals
Eating pizza out with friends and deciding to add some green peppers as a topping because you like them
Trying to increase the variety of the foods you eat versus sticking to the same things day after day to make sure you are getting a good balance of important vitamins and minerals
Setting a goal to incorporate one meal per day that includes a vegetable if you are someone who does not touch vegetables
No matter your food preferences or your personal view, know that you are the one who determines what practicing gentle nutrition looks like in your life. As being a dietitian, obviously nutrition is a value of mine, but I know that everyone else has their own values and priorities when it comes to their food choices. Like I said, what looks healthy to me, likely won’t be for you. You should not have to feel you have to prove yourself by eating the healthiest of foods. No matter your size, you can practice gentle nutrition and feel confident in the way you choose to honor your body with food no matter what foods you have access to. Remember in the end, all foods provide us with nourishment.
Here are three steps you can take to start practicing gentle nutrition through intuitive eating:
1. Focus on variety and addition, not restriction and subtraction:
Diets want us to minimize what we are eating. Only eating from the “good” foods list or completely cutting out whole food groups is so common. Instead of focusing on restricting what you are eating and subtracting from what you do eat, focus on being more inclusive! I always preach “eat the rainbow” but in all honesty, the more variety that you have in your diet (*referring to diet here as what you eat on a daily basis), the less bored you will be... not to mention the more vitamins, minerals, and all the other good stuff you’ll be getting too! You shouldn’t feel deprived or the need to restrict anything from what you eat unless it is for a serious medical condition where it is required for your health and safety.
2. Pay attention to how foods make you feel:
There’s no question that eating cookies all day long likely isn’t going to make you feel or preform your best. The food we put into our bodies has a large impact on the way our bodies function and respond, there is no denying this. In order to practice gentle nutrition, it is important to take into consideration how the food you are eating makes you feel. If you are used to eating fast food 5 days of the week for lunch and usually find yourself feeling sluggish, maybe it’s time to consider how packing your lunch might impact your energy level and ability to work throughout the day. Same goes for the other end of the spectrum. If you are only trying to eat “clean” and are really not fueling your body with foods that you enjoy, it’s time you take into consideration your food preferences and what is going to satisfy you.
3. Don’t get caught up in the specifics:
Your health and journey with practicing gentle nutrition does not have to be perfect, nor is it meant to be! Don’t get so caught up in the specifics of needing to get your 5 servings of fruits and vegetables every day. You don’t have to measure out perfect serving sizes, and you are absolutely allowed to have ice cream before dinner and still practice this concept of healthful eating. Think bigger picture here. Your health, like I mentioned, is not determined by your body size or by one meal you eat. It also is definitely is not determined b by the amount of times you had to eat out this past week because life was just too busy. Don’t beat yourself up for one meal, but at the same time, you may need to work on making more of a conscious effort to focus on making positive changes that help you practice gentle nutrition to feel your best both physically and mentally.
How do I know if I am ready to start implementing these gentle nutrition concepts?
Not everyone will be quite ready to take these steps. If you have a strong history of dieting and food rules and thoughts are still ingrained in your brain, it may be important to take a step back. You may still be in a place where your relationship with food and your body needs some improvement before you should even consider thinking about nutrition. There is no rush to the finish line here! Remember that this is a journey not a destination.
If you feel that you are ready to take the steps it takes to improve your relationship with food and your body and ditch diets for good, feel to reach out to me for my nutrition coaching program. I love to help clients discover how gentle nutrition can play a role in their life. When it comes to nutrition, I’m a firm believer in a few things: living a balanced lifestyle, our relationship with food and our body is just as important as what we put into our body, and that nutrition doesn’t need to be confusing and complicated.
Keep it balanced!