Hello there! I just launched Part 2 of my recent IGTV Q&A, and this one is about gentle nutrition. I was only able to scratch the surface on this topic because gentle nutrition is very nuanced. It’s not rigid, restrictive, or complicated, but it’s different for every single person. Unlike many dietary theories, there are no set rules so I can’t say “do this or don’t do that,” and that is where the beauty of it lies. It’s flexible and meets your own unique needs based on health needs, time in life, seasons, and values.
A common misconception about Intuitive Eating is that it disregards nutrition, which is not true. First of all, Intuitive Eating is evidence based and proven to be health promoting both physically and mentally. Gentle nutrition is the final principle of Intuitive Eating (see all ten principles here). There’s a reason it is the final principle, because before one can dig into nutrition facts and knowledge, they need to heal their relationship with food first. Even with the best intentions, gentle nutrition can easily become a diet if one doesn’t work on healing their relationship with food.
Healing your relationship with food is a process, especially because from an early age we hear diet messages and they have become mainstream in our culture. First, you need to let go of diet culture, which often starts with cleaning up the information we take in, whether that’s unfollowing social media accounts, unsubscribing to magazines/newsletters, and being careful what information we consume. Then, you also need to reframe beliefs you’ve held about your body, weight, nutrition, etc. This isn’t because it’s necessarily bad to care about nutrition, but to heal your relationship with food and eat intuitively, you have to start with a clean slate.
Second, you need to make peace with all food. Give yourself unconditional permission to eat all foods. If you tell yourself that you can’t or shouldn’t have a particular food, it can lead to intense feelings of deprivation that build into uncontrollable cravings and, often, bingeing when you finally “give-in” to your forbidden food, eating will be experienced with such intensity, it usually results in Last Supper overeating, and overwhelming guilt. Think of a child — they eat what they want, when they want without judgement or shame.
Once you are in a good spot with your relationship with food, you can start exploring gentle nutrition. If you are at the beginning stages of recovery from disordered eating or letting go of chronic dieting, gentle nutrition is not for you, but it’s something to look forward to as part of your journey. At this time, start working with a dietician or health coach who can guide you through healing your relationship with food and your body. Feel free to reach out to me if you need some 1:1 support.
So what is gentle nutrition? I love the definition the book Intuitive Eating gives for this concept — “Make food choices that honor your health and taste buds while making you feel well. Remember that you don’t have to eat a perfect diet to be healthy. You will not suddenly get a nutrient deficiency or gain weight from one snack, one meal, or one day of eating. It’s what you eat consistently over time that matters, progress not perfection is what counts.” When you actual listen to your body, it will tell you what it needs. I love to think of gentle nutrition as using your head and your body to make decisions about food.
Gentle nutrition is pro-health. It creates the mental space and positive relationship with food that allows you to adopt health-promoting habits rooted in self-care, which makes it more sustainable in the long-run. The whole process of intuitive eating is getting rid of the messages that make us feel inadequate and afraid of ruining our health and weight, tuning in to your body and it’s needs, focus on self-care, and making nutrition decisions based on the intention of self-care.
If you’re at a spot where you want to start implementing gentle nutrition, here are some ways to get started:
Look at the big picture (remember, one meal/day/week of eating won’t make you nutritionally deficient. It’s consistency over the long run). For example, we know that whole grains have many health benefits, and it can be a great idea to incorporate them into your life, but that doesn’t mean white rice, pasta, and bread can’t fit in there. Add whole grain when it sounds good and fits with the meal, but allow yourself to have white grains if that’s what sounds good or is available.
Focus on addition, not subtraction. Again, there are no bad foods, so instead of restricting certain foods, focus on adding nutrient-dense foods like leafy greens, whole grains, fatty fish, etc.
Eat a variety of foods. When we eat a variety of foods, we are more likely to get a variety of nutrients. Try out different sources of protein, grains, fruits and veggies.
Pay attention to foods that make you feel good. If it makes you feel good, incorporate it more into your diet.
Cook at home more often. If you can, cook at home where you can save money, try different fresh ingredients, and feel connected to the food you are eating.
Tune into hunger and fullness. Intuitive eating is not the hunger and fullness diet, but does teach you how to become aware of these signals. Practice tuning into your own hunger and fullness and learn how to satisfy your needs.
I hope this gave you a better picture of gentle nutrition. Remember that it first starts with healing your relationship with food and that it’s highly individualized. Gentle nutrition looks different for every person, and each person can decide what it looks like for them including what degree they would like to engage in it. If you have questions or need more support around any of this, contact me. I’m here for you!