How To Practice Gentle Nutrition In Intuitive Eating

by | Dec 2, 2022 | Nutrition

toxic body storage

There is a good reason gentle nutrition is the last principle of intuitive eating. Without doing some work to heal your relationship with food first, gentle nutrition can easily become a diet. But sometimes it can feel like a bit of a mystery. This post explores how to practice gentle nutrition in intuitive eating without it becoming a diet.

Let’s first start with the 10 basic principles of Intuitive Eating:

One thing about intuitive eating is that you can choose your own adventure!

  1.  Reject the diet mentality – This means that you get rid of diet books, your calorie counting app, etc. This is an effort to be able to re-learn how to be an intuitive eater.
  2. Honour your hunger – Our bodies do have the ability to regulate our energy intake in a much more accurate way than a calorie counting app.
  3. Make peace with food – This is also where you let go of food guilt and seeing foods as “good” or “bad.”
  4. Challenge the food police – This principle is all about saying “hush” to that voice in your head questioning if you really should be eating that treat.
  5. Feel your fullness – With practice, our body can say “enough is enough” and end a meal when you’ve truly had enough.
  6. Discover the satisfaction factor – Eating should be enjoyable.
  7. Cope with your emotions with kindness – Learning how to avoid emotional eating and develop other constructive coping mechanisms is key to intuitive eating.
  8. Movement feel the difference – This principle shifts the focus from “burn to earn your carbs” and slugging through workouts that feel torturous. Find something called “joyful movement.”
  9. Respect your body – We must learn to accept our “genetic blueprint” and work to find our body’s ideal weight. No more trying to shrink our body into being socially “acceptable” by diet culture’s unrealistic standards.
  10. Honour your health with gentle nutrition:Nutrition and health information do play a role in intuitive eating. Intuitive eating is about learning to get back in touch with our body mind connection.

In general, there are technically no specific rules for how you’re supposed to move through the ten principles. You can start with one or more of them and work on integrating them into your life, eating habits and your belief systems. 

What does gentle nutrition look like?

It is different for everyone. You get to decide what gentle nutrition looks like for you, including to what degree you’d like to engage with nutrition, if at all. Health is a complex, nuanced thing, and it is so much more than food and fitness. Mental health is health too, and sometimes focussing on mental health means putting nutrition on the back burner. What looks like gentle nutrition for one person could be completely different for another.

Here are some examples of what gentle nutrition could look like:

  • A person with a busy work/family life or lacks food prep skills try to add fresh vegetables to your meal plans and ditch frozen and boxed convenience meals.
  • Intentionally cook most your meals at home using fresh and whole ingredients.
  • Follow a gluten free diet for celiac disease.
  • Follow a vegan or kosher diet for ethical/religious beliefs.
  • Aim to eat an anti-inflammatory meal pattern to help manage symptoms of a health conditions.
  • Follow a meal plan or guideline and regularly include challenge foods especially in eating disorder recovery.
  • Without thinking about nutrition, but trying to include some vegetables or fruit when you think about it.

How to practice gentle nutrition in intuitive eating:

Zoom out

Focus on the big picture instead of individual food choices. Individual food choices make very little difference when it comes to health. I don’t think you can look back to that fast food bacon cheeseburger and fries you had in 2010 and say that was the meal that ruined it all! So I don’t think that meal or snack you’re stressing about right now is going to make a big difference in the context of your life.

If you are thinking about ways to improve the quality of your diet, it is worth thinking about the big picture. E.g. If you go out to lunch most days at work, is there a way you could pack a quick and easy lunch with some produce in it a few times a week?

Focus on addition, not subtraction

Most diets centres on restriction – ways to eat less, not eat or limit certain foods. With intuitive eating, most foods fit in and all foods are morally equivalent but some foods are more nutrient-dense than others. Just because a food is more nutritious, that doesn’t mean it is the only thing we need to eat. Remember, nutrition and health are not the same thing.

With adding in, instead of focusing on restriction, the focus is on including more nutrient-dense foods. Just think addition, not subtraction.

Some examples:

  • How can you include fatty fish more frequently?  Keep frozen salmon filets in the freezer or canned wild salmon on hand for a snack. Experiment with new fish recipes.
  • How can you include more leafy greens?  Chop spinach into your scrambled eggs.

Think variety

Different foods contain different nutrients, so when we eat a variety of foods with a wide array of proteins, fats, nuts and seeds, it protects against nutrient deficiency. While ensuring a nutritional adequacy and giving us plenty of disease-fighting phytonutrients.

Pay attention to what food that feels good 

Considering how food makes you feel may help you make more nutritious choices on the whole. That doesn’t mean you have to always choose the food that makes you feel good but tuning in to how different foods or meals affect your energy and digestion can help you eat more healthfully.

Different people may benefit from different patterns of eating that feel good for them. Pay attention to how food makes you feel. I’ve had some clients who’ve noticed they sleep better at night with a dinner of protein and vegetables, while others feel really energized during the day by eating larger amounts of plant-based fats with less protein. Noticing a pattern of eating that feels good for you doesn’t mean you have to follow it as a rigid rule, but it can help guide you in making eating decisions.

Cook at home more often

Cooking at home is one way to incorporate more fresh foods. It is not reasonable to expect to cook at home for every meal, but it is worthwhile to think of ways that cooking at home can be easier and more enjoyable. For you, that might be batch cooking some soup on the weekends or getting a new cookbook with recipes that get you excited to experiment with.

Tune into hunger and fullness

Diets teach counting calories, macros or portion sizes as a way to practice portion control. The fact is our energy needs change from day to day. The best way to ensure you are getting an appropriate amount of food for you is to tune in to hunger and fullness cues. On days your body requires more energy, your body will tell you and on days your body requires less energy, you’ll feel that too.

Create an environment that makes it easy to make health-promoting choices 

It is smart to create an environment that prompts you to make healthier choices. Things like keep running or walking shoes at work so you can squeeze in a jog or a walk on your lunch break. Have a bowl of fruit on the counter or keep nuts and seeds on the go snack available.

Are you ready for gentle nutrition?

Not everyone reading this may be ready for gentle nutrition. If the diet mentality is deeply engrained or if you are battling an eating disorder, it will be helpful to focus on healing your relationship with food first. That will require putting nutrition on the backseat for a while.

If you feel like you’re ready to engage in nutrition but not sure how to start, feel free to reach out to me for intuitive eating coaching. As an integrative nutritional health coach who values the power of nutrition and the importance of having a healthy relationship with food, I love to help clients discover how gentle nutrition can play a role in their life.

This tool does not provide medical advice, it is intended for information purposed only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the Natural Attitude website. If you suspect you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.

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