What is gentle nutrition?
Gentle nutrition is the tenth, and last, principle of intuitive eating. This principle is formally known as “honor your health with gentle nutrition.”
Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch would further describe gentle nutrition as making food choices that make you feel good and honor your overall health while still satisfying your tastebuds.
Ultimately, gentle nutrition is understanding that healthy eating isn’t just about what you eat, but also your reasoning behind your food choices.
What is an example of gentle nutrition?
Gentle nutrition is eating a variety of nutritious foods like fruit & vegetables, quality proteins, and whole grains while still being able to enjoy the less nutritious, more highly processed food options in amounts that satisfy your cravings while also allowing you to feel your best.
To put this in perspective, here are some further examples of gentle nutrition:
Having a sandwich at lunch with whole grain bread, roasted chicken and veggies with a glass of milk and a cookie for dessert
Having white toast for breakfast but adding peanut butter and a banana to meet your needs and keep you feeling fuller longer
Choosing the more nutritious option when it comes to two different granola bars because you like the taste of both of them equally
Intentionally increasing your fiber consumption to help normalize bowel movements or lower your cholesterol
Adding protein to most meals and snacks because you’re working on controlling your blood sugars
There are many examples of gentle nutrition that go far beyond this list as gentle nutrition can look very different from one person the next.
Considerations before starting gentle nutrition
Before you head to the next section, “how to practice gentle nutrition,” it’s important to make sure you’re ready for it.
There is a reason that gentle nutrition is the last principle of intuitive eating. The reason being, that diet culture makes it very easy to confuse good nutrition practices with dieting.
Remember gentle nutrition is a component of intuitive eating and intuitive eating is a non-diet practice because, as we already know, there are many disadvantages of dieting.
Some of you may be ready to jump right into gentle nutrition while others may need to ensure other intuitive eating principles (such as making peace with food) are considered and in place first.
You may not be ready to start practicing gentle nutrition if…
Your food choices are guided by how it will affect your body weight/size
Your main goal is weight loss
You count your macros or track your calories
You obsess over nutrition facts labels
You still view food as “good” or “bad”
You experience guilt for eating (or not eating) certain foods
You have an eating disorder or struggle with other disordered eating behaviours
You often try to avoid foods that you deem unhealthy
You don’t have a healthy relationship with food
If this sounds like you, stop here and instead start with this free mini training “getting started with intuitive eating.” Here you will find more of an overview of intuitive eating (a non diet approach to eating) as well as walk away with some important initial steps to take before jumping into gentle nutrition!
Otherwise feel free to move on!
How to practice gentle nutrition
Here are the general guidelines on how to add gentle nutrition into your daily life:
Consider how you want to feel
I think it’s pretty obvious that we want to feel good. Though for many reasons, we don’t always engage in behaviours that make us feel good. When it comes to eating, oftentimes people indulge in certain foods, or amounts of food, that makes them feel unwell.
This frequently comes from restrictive food behaviours (a.k.a dieting) that drive cravings and result in rebound binges (something that drastically decreases when other principles of intuitive eating are in place).
While working with clients we move away from making food choices based on what is perceived as “good” and “bad,” to what will actually make us feel good or bad (physically). This shift in perspective makes a huge difference when it comes to making food choices.
If you focus on what feels good to your body, you’re more likely to choose more nutritious foods more often and also overeat less often. Let’s take a peak at what this may look like:
It’s almost lunch time, you’re hungry and your coworker brought you a container of her delicious homemade cookies. You would really love to eat a cookie right now, but you know that a cookie won’t satisfy your needs the same way a meal would, nor would eating the whole container of cookies.
So instead, you choose to eat the balanced lunch you brought that will satisfy MOST of your needs, but you end your lunch off with a cookie to satisfy your tastebuds. This choice leaves you feeling completely satisfied with no ill effects.
Determine your goals
If you’re reading this article, you most likely want to improve some aspect of your life via nutrition.
Maybe you just want to feel better in general? If so, consider what areas of nutrition you could improve on. More home cooked meals? More fruits and vegetables? More regular eating patterns?
Perhaps your goal is performance based. Maybe you are training for a marathon and you need to ensure you fuel yourself properly so you don’t run out of gas mid-way or hinder your potential through improper nutrition.
Or maybe you just received a new diagnosis from your doctor and nutrition is an important component of improving your health outcomes.
Everyone’s goals are different so determine what your nutrition related goals are and make food choices that will help you achieve those goals in a non-restrictive way.
Decide what you’re in the mood for
Like I said, satisfying your taste buds is important. Do you want something sweet or savory? salty or sour? Let this be one guiding factor, but also recognize this goes beyond just your taste buds.
When we eat intuitively, our bodies are actually pretty good at telling us what we need in order to ensure we get a wide variety of micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) and macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates and fat).
For example, if your body needs carbs, you’re likely to crave carbs. Now of course there can be other reasons for food cravings, which you can read more about in my other blog post about food obsession, but ultimately your body can and will tell you what you need.
So do yourself a favour and start listening to your body (not external food rules).
Follow basic nutrition guidelines
Many countries have their own set of dietary guidelines. You can use your countries guidelines as a tool to guide your food choices. The keyword here is GUIDE. Food guides should not be mistaken for food rules.
Here are a few common guidelines you can follow:
Consume a variety of fruits and vegetables
Choose whole grains more often than refined grains
Include a variety of protein rich foods like fish, meat, poultry eggs, soy products, legumes
Incorporate quality fats from foods like fish, nuts, seeds, olive/canola oil, avocados
Drink water often
The truth is, most somewhat educated people have a pretty good idea of what they “should” be eating, and by that I mean which foods are more nutritious. The reasons people don’t follow these basic guidelines goes far beyond just knowledge.
If you are someone that struggles to keep up with good eating habits, or maybe you have certain health conditions and require a more individualized approach, I highly recommend working with a Registered Dietitian.
Feel free to contact me to see if we’re the right fit to work together!
Add, don't subtract
I will never tell my clients to stop eating something, unless the food item can result in certain adverse effects (i.e. food allergy, celiac disease, etc.).
Intentionally removing foods from your diet can feel very restrictive and will often backfire. Instead, I like to focus on what can be added to your diet. Typically what happens when you add nutritious foods is that the less nutritious foods will be consumed less frequently.
Let's say for example you want to start eating more vegetables, so you decide to incorporate salads into more of your meals. You may still have pizza every Friday night, but now that you have a side salad to go with it, you likely don’t need as many slices of pizza.
This creates a more varied diet, with a wider variety of nutrients overall!
Don’t forget the “gentle” part of gentle nutrition
Oftentimes good nutrition practices are confused with dieting. Remember, gentle nutrition is a practice that honors your health, makes you feel good and satisfies your taste buds. Gentle nutrition is not a diet, nor is it a component of a diet.
Before focusing on nutrition, make sure you’re ready for it. If you haven’t even started healing your relationship with food, you should likely start with some of the other principles of intuitive eating first.
If you are choosing to focus on nutrition at this moment, be gentle. Make choices based on what feels good, what your body is craving and what your overall goals are. Use nutrition guidelines as guidelines NOT rules and work from an addition perspective.