Are you wondering how to implement gentle nutrition with Intuitive Eating?
A common misconception is that Intuitive Eating is just eating whatever you feel like, with all nutrition going out the window. Please rest assured this is not the case. In fact, there is a whole principle within the Intuitive Eating framework that is dedicated to nutrition.
This article will give information about gentle nutrition, including practical examples for you to start implementing this principle at home today.
What is Gentle Nutrition?
Gentle nutrition is the 10th and final principle in Intuitive Eating. Essentially, gentle nutrition is about making food choices that honour both your health and your taste buds. It’s about nourishing yourself from a place of self-care. It means incorporating nutrition science in a way that respects both your physical and mental wellbeing.
What does Gentle Nutrition look like in practice?
This can be very different for each person. You get to decide what you’d like it to look like based on your goals, values, lifestyle and health. Some examples might include:
Grabbing wholemeal/grainy bread instead of white bread because it keeps your digestion happy and satisfies you for longer
Adding veggies into home cooked meals for the fibre, colour and nutrients, and because you notice it makes you feel better to include some fresh produce in meals
Packing cheese, veg sticks and dip for afternoon tea, instead of having the biscuits every day because it helps you beat the afternoon slump
Having some protein after a workout, (e.g. a protein bar or Greek yogurt) to help with muscle recovery
Choosing a food or drink that’s lower in added sugar/has fewer ingredients/etc. if both of them satisfy equally
Eating an anti-inflammatory meal pattern to help manage a health condition
Including protein, carb and fat at each meal for satiety
Someone who works multiple jobs and is time poor trying to adding vegetables to frozen convenience meals
Cooking most of your meals at home using fresh, whole ingredients because this makes you feel good
Following a gluten free diet because you have coeliac disease.
Remember these are just idea’s and they probably won’t all apply to you. And there’s no moral imperative to prioritise nutrition if you don’t want to. You’re an adult and you get to eat on your terms!
How to know if you’re ready to implement gentle nutrition on your Intuitive Eating journey
Ask yourself these questions before starting to focus on implementing gentle nutrition:
Have I worked through my food rules?
Do I view food as morally neutral and not “good” or “bad”?
Do I no longer feel guilt when eating a previously forbidden or “bad” food?
Do I respect my here-and-now body?
Is the reason for implementing gentle nutrition for my health/wellbeing and not for changing the way it looks?
If the answers are all “yes” then you’re likely ready to begin applying gentle nutrition. You can skip the next paragraph and head straight to “Practical tips to incorporate gentle nutrition”.
If not, keep reading here. Gentle Nutrition is the final principle of Intuitive Eating for a reason. Whilst the 10 principles don’t have to be implemented in any set order, this one is often left until last. This is because most people using the Intuitive Eating framework have a troubled relationship with food. And many already know lots about nutrition but this knowledge isn’t necessarily helping them to be healthier.
If you are still working through engrained diet mentality, or if you have an active eating disorder/disordered eating, it’s helpful to focus on healing your relationship with food first. That likely requires putting most nutrition on the backseat. Otherwise you are likely to take on nutrition information with too much of an all-or-nothing, black and white lens. And this can end up doing more harm than good. The most important thing at this stage is to focus on making peace with food and challenging your food rules. You have the rest of your life to eat healthy – there’s no rush! Sometimes this often means feeling like, and consuming your previously forbidden foods, more often than usual. This is not always the case for everyone, but it can be common for many. It’s important to know this is quite normal, when something has been forbidden for so long, and you’re finally giving yourself permission to have it, it kind of makes sense you’ll feel like it often? A helpful part of this process is staying linked in with a well trained Certified Intuitive Eating Counsellor to help you through this process, as some can benefit from more of a systematic approach. But really – this is okay. Because on the other side of that, is a more comfortable relationship with food, which is going to have lifetime of positive implications for your health and wellbeing!! Exciting!
Practical tips for how to implement gentle nutrition
1. Add, don’t subtract
Most diet advice centres on subtraction eg) cutting out a food group, reducing calories. Hopefully if you’ve worked through the other principles of Intuitive Eating, you know that all food fits. And nothing needs to be removed from your diet.
Instead, focus on what you can add in to boost the nourishment you get from meals and snacks.
- adding fruit and veg to your morning smoothie to boost your vitamin, antioxidant and fibre intake
- aiming to incorporate fatty fish 2-3x per week to meet your omega 3 requirements
- having cheese with your biscuits at afternoon tea because the protein/fat helps satiate you
2. Focus on what feels good
Tuning in to how different foods or meals affect your energy and/or digestion can help you eat more healthfully.
For example, I know eating something very sweet in the morning almost always gives me a stomach ache. Sometimes an acai bowl will sound good, but if I don’t want the stomach ache, I pass. Other days, it might look delicious enough for me to make the sacrifice of feeling crummy for half an hour.
Different people can benefit from different patterns of eating that feel good for them. Paying attention to how food makes you feel both during and after eating can help you figure out what that looks like for you.
Eating a wide variety of food helps ensure adequate nutrition. Different foods contain different nutrients. So when we incorporate lots of different foods (not just a wide array of fruits and veg, but also proteins, fats, and carbohydrate as well), it protects against nutrient deficiency.
4. Tune your environment for nourishment
Us humans make a lot of decisions unconsciously based on environmental cues. So it can be helpful to tune your environment to prompt you to make choices that are good for your health and wellbeing. For example, having a variety of nourishing snacks in the fridge/pantry. Keeping your fruit bowl on the counter or some weekly meal idea’s written on the fridge door.
5. Tune into hunger and fullness
Your body’s energy needs vary day-to-day. The best way to ensure you’re 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 you’ll feel more hungry. And on days your body requires less energy, you’ll feel that too.
When to NOT implement gentle nutrition
The last thing to note here is that there is a difference between a food rule and a food preference. You shouldn’t feel guilt/stress/anxiety when implementing gentle nutrition. For example, if you were to feel guilt or anxiety if you went to buy lentil pasta and all they had was regular pasta? That might signal that your “gentle nutrition” is really a food rule that needs to be broken. You want to feel okay with either choice and be able to be flexible.
If you feel like you’re ready to implement gentle nutrition, but are not sure where to start, feel free to reach out to us. At CFIE we are dietitians who value the power of nutrition AND the value of having a healthy, comfortable relationship with food. Find out more about us here.