How to practice gentle nutrition with Intuitive Eating
Aka, how to chill the f*ck out when it comes to food, nutrition, and health.
And before we get started, I just want to make an important statement here. You don’t owe ANYONE anything when it comes to your food choices or health. And no one else owes you theirs. So if it is within your values, financial ability, food security, and the like to eat in a particular way that makes you feel a particular way (like adding fresh veggies to your diet) than great. But assuming that everyone “should” have the same desire to pursue health or eating nutritious foods is healthist. Check out this article all about healthism by Aubrey Gordon (Your Fat Friend)
Intuitive Eating isn’t all cupcakes and candy bars, although a big part of becoming an intuitive eater is becoming more neutral towards all foods, FIRST and foremost. Dieting is a surefire way to make us feel out of control with certain demonized foods causing us to waver back and forth from strict, “clean” ways of eating to times when we feel out of control with food (sometimes considered as bingeing) over and over until we can’t take it anymore and check out Intuitive Eating 🙂 hehe!
With most of my clients, we first have to release any diet rules and lessen anxiety around food before discussing the concept of gentle nutrition. The 10 principles of Intuitive Eating allow you to become more comfortable around food through the process of habituation aka how to stop feeling out of control with food, becoming in tune with your body, and allowing yourself unconditional permission to eat all types of food.
Once you feel more peace with food, we can start thinking more about what it means to practice gentle nutrition.
It’s time to talk about nutrition when you’re no longer WORRIED or STRESSED about nutrition.
Curious about nutrition? Sure.
But if you’re still stressing over nutrition, it may be better to focus on making more peace with food, discovering those underlying fear foods and addressing them so you can become more neutral towards food.
*Also just a quick note: no need for shame if you still feel not so great with food. We live in a food-obsessed, unrealistic ideal-obsessed culture that promotes a really unhealthy relationship with food. You weren’t born that way, and it can be unlearned.*
I can always tell that it’s time to talk nutrition when the conversation about nutrition with a client shifts to a gentle curiousity rather than an intense concern.
It’s usually after they’ve learned:
- How to honor their hunger. By allowing themselves to eat when hungry, instead of ignoring it for arbitrary rules which had set them up for obsession around food and then overeating at the next meal time.
- How to respect their fullness. By listening to body cues that tell them they’ve had enough and because they know they can eat again – by honoring their hunger – they can stop when they’ve had enough.
- Discover the satisfaction factor. Truly eating in a way that’s enjoyable – eating foods they like, in ways they like, depending what they’re in the mood for, honoring their own individual flavor and food preferences.
- Make peace with food. Read my post on how to stop feeling out of control with food for more info on this one – but basically this is the process of habituating (getting used to) having certain foods. When we restrict or deprive ourselves of certain foods, it makes us want them WAY more. So part of finding peace with food is about feeling safer around previously “problematic” foods.
- Check out my post on the 10 principles of intuitive eating for a deeper dive into all 10 principles, and the research to support this approach.
Okay, so now onto the juicy stuff! But first, another important note. This is the closest I’ll ever get to telling someone what to eat, and that’s on purpose. Intuitive Eating is about connecting to your OWN body, mind and spirit when it comes to making food and wellness decisions. If you find yourself being like, “ugh, I just want to be told what to eat!” consider how that has worked for you (and others) in the past.
Everywhere you go, someone is telling you how to eat – on social media, diet ads, the radio, influencers, etc. It doesn’t work. I counseled that way for YEARS and all it did was disempower people and keep them reliant on others on how to care for themselves. In reality, we have everything we need within us to tell us what, when and how to eat – it’s just a matter of learning how to listen, combined with some gentle suggestions around nutrition and health.
So without further ado, honor your health with gentle nutrition is the 10th principle of Intuitive Eating. The simplest way to think of this is like finding the gray area of nutrition and health. Rather than the all or none, black and white dichotomous thinking of the diet world (dieting, then bingeing, dieting, then bingeing) gentle nutrition allows us to look at the bigger picture.
With gentle nutrition, I encourage clients to zoom out. Nutrition and health is not as nitty gritty as we’re made to believe.
Nutrient deficiencies develop over time. Not from one meal, day, or week of eating. It’s what we eat, in a general sense, over time that matters. Health is much more than what we put into our bodies. Sleep, stress, social connection, movement, mental health, genetics, and healthcare all play a big role on our health status in addition to food.
Let’s break down macros and micros in hopes that it will help us zoom out a bit more when it comes to how we eat.
MACROS (macronutrients) include carbohydrates, protein and fat.
Carbs: your body and brain’s preferred source of energy.
Protein: needed to make enzymes, hormones, and other body chemicals; building block of bones, muscles, cartilage, hair, skin, nails and blood.
Fat: help us absorb fat soluble vitamins (A, D, E, and K), required for various processes in the body including supporting cell growth, producing hormones, and protecting your organs/keep the body warm.
MICROS (micronutrients) include vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. These include things nutrients like iron, vitamin A, vitamin D, folate, and zinc.
Important note: just because a brownie may not be “nutrient dense” doesn’t mean it’s not healthy. Remember, mental health is just as important as physical health. Sometimes we eat for nutrition for our physical health, and sometimes we eat for our emotional or mental health. Food isn’t just about nutrition, it’s about connection, community, culture, nostalgia, religion, and spirituality.
The way we want to think about gentle nutrition is that you will have some meals where you just eat a plain pancake. You know that it has carbohydrates (a macronutrient) that will provide your body and brain with energy, cool!
And then other times, when able, you can add bananas, blueberries or strawberries to that pancake and you’ll be getting your carbs PLUS some vitamin C and extra fiber. Also cool!
I encourage clients to think about it in the sense of how can I “spiral up” with this meal to make it a bit more nutrient dense, if possible, and it sounds good? Can I add some spinach to a breakfast sandwich? Or some veggies to my pizza? The “gentle” piece comes into effect when we’re able to find peace in the fact that it’s okay if every single meal doesn’t have veggies or isn’t “perfectly balanced”. With Intuitive Eating, we embrace imperfection, flexibility, and the gray area.
Rather than focusing on what NOT to eat like diets typically do, we promote adding nutritious foods to your diet in a very general, laid back, mindful way that promotes a healthy relationship with food; wellness without obsession if you will.
These are along the lines of the very general suggestions for gentle nutrition in Intuitive Eating…
- Eat enough fruits and vegetables. Add broccoli to mac and cheese, stir fry veggies over rice, stuffed peppers, fajitas or tacos with sauteéd pepper and onion, veggie sticks with a dressing you like, veggie soup, or smoothies.
- Eat enough grains (oats, rice, quinoa, whole grain breads, cereals) they’re a rich source of carbs, fiber and B vitamins (important for energy and mood!)
- Eat enough fish – many benefits of eating seafood including improved mood to lower risk of chronic diseases, especially heart disease. If you don’t like fish, focus on other high omega foods like chia seeds, walnuts, flax seeds, and avocados.
- Drink enough fluids – especially water – up to 60% of the human body is made up of water (weird to think about, I know!) I’ve found the best way to do this is by having a giant, colorful, portable water bottle with me at my office and at home.
What would it look like to practice gentle nutrition in your life? Is there any resistance to this principle? How come? Get curious – and for more detailed info check out the book Intuitive Eating by Evelyn Tribole MS, RDN, CEDRD-S and Elyse Resch MS, RDN, CEDRD-S, FAND.
Want to transform your own relationship with food? Book a free intro call with me here to see if we’re a good fit!
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Ah, this is so good to hear. It’s like taking the pressure off my “have to eat 100% healthy to be healthy” attitude. Love the idea of “spiraling up”!