One of the biggest misconceptions about Intuitive Eating is that if you can eat whatever you want, it means that’ll just end up eating “junk food” and never eat fruit or vegetables again. However, the 10th principal of Intuitive Eating is to honor your health with gentle nutrition. From its name alone, gentle nutrition works to gently help you add more nutrients into your diet without the food rules and shame that diet culture typically imposes on us in order to be “healthy.”
What makes gentle nutrition different from diet culture nutrition?
Gentle nutrition differs from diet culture in that it is all about self care, rather than self control. With gentle nutrition, you are eating for how you want to feel instead of how you want to look. There is no morality as food is objective. There is also no labeling foods as “good” or “bad” with gentle nutrition.
Here are 8 tips to honor your health with gentle nutrition…
#1 Add Rather Than Take Away
Many food rules or restrictions tell us that we need to remove things from our diet in order to be “healthy.” Gentle nutrition encourages the opposite, adding more foods into the diet in a way that feels good. Some forms of gentle nutrition include adding protein to a smoothie to make it more satiating, adding spinach to a grilled cheese to increase the fiber and iron content, or adding a salad to a meal to add freshness, fiber, and micronutrients. Gentle nutrition is all about finding a way to increase the satisfaction, variety, and nutrients to honor your health without food rules. Not everything we eat will be “perfectly balanced” or contain fruits and vegetables, and that’s okay too! You won’t suddenly develop a nutrient deficiency from going a few days, or event weeks, without eating fresh fruits and veggies.
#2 Meals Don’t Have to Make Sense
Following certain food rules in the past may have trained you to think meals have to be a certain way in order to be nutritious. However, gentle nutrition shows that this is not the case. For example, if you are craving cereal but also want to add some vegetables, you can have a cereal with a side salad or some cut up vegetables. This meal might not “make sense” according to conventional ideas about food, but they are still adding satisfaction, nutrients, and variety. If it feels good for you, makes sense for you.
#3 Be Patient With Yourself
When you embark on your intuitive eating journey, you will likely have a period of time where you eat more of the foods that you once restricted yourself from. During this time, fruits and vegetables may be put on the back burner. If this happens to you, it is totally okay and normal! This period is called the honeymoon phase and is important to experience when beginning intuitive eating. It is important to be patient with yourself during this time as you learn to let go of food rules and begin to live a life without them. The key is to trust that you won’t stay in the honeymoon phase forever… see tip #4…
#4 Your Body Will Begin to Crave Nutrient Dense Foods
Your body is smarter than you give it credit for. After going through a period of not eating fruits or vegetables, your body will begin to naturally crave them. Our bodies know what they need in order to thrive. It may come as a surprise to crave more nutrient-dense foods, but as you live a life without restriction or food rules, you will become more in tune with these feelings.You might even remember a time on a road trip eating or vacation where you were eating more “play” foods and then home craving something fresh when you got home. You really can trust your body to tell you what it needs.
#5 Try Switching the Language You Use
Diet culture refers to certain foods and healthy and other foods as unhealthy. When you start practicing gentle nutrition, it can be helpful to use different terms in place of “healthy” and “unhealthy” to remove the element of morality associated with these words. Try using the term “nutrient-dense” to refer to foods you would traditionally deem “healthy.” The term nutrient-dense is objective without carrying morality– it is true that certain foods contain more micronutrients, but it ISNT true that these foods are morally superior to other foods. For, more processed foods that diet culture deems “unhealthy” try using the term “play foods” or “fun foods.” Though there are certain foods that objectively contain fewer micronutrients, these foods still add pleasure or fun to the eating experience, which is an important aspect of intuitive eating. (If your food isn’t enjoyable and satisfying, you’ll find yourself still on the prowl for more after you finish which could lead to overeating or binge eating).
#6 Everyone Has Different Needs
What is considered “healthy” for one person may not necessarily be “healthy” for someone else as everyone’s nutritional needs are different. For example, diet culture says that everyone should be striving to eat more salad… but for a person with GI issues, the fibrous plant material in salad can digestive distress, Or, for an elderly person who struggles with chewing, salad can be a choking hazard. For an immunocompromised person, salad could pose greater risk of food-borne illness as it is not heat treated. Everyone has different needs based on a multitude of factors such as genetics, level of physical activity, age, allergies, and medical conditions. When it comes to nutrition, it’s important to focus on yourself and what makes you feel good rather than what diet culture says is “right.”
#7 Check in With Intention
With intuitive eating, the intention behind food choices is everything. Is the intention for choosing a more nutrient-dense food over a play food because it’s what feels good to you in the moment, or is it because certain diet culture messages are still lingering in your mind? It’s normal to still have those lingering diety feelings as you navigate your journey with intuitive eating, but it is also important to pay attention to your intention behind food choices in order to keep yourself away from the often snesky diet-mentality wrath. With gentle nutrition, the intention for making certain decisions will be different than those that come from diet culture. Checking the ingredients of a food can change from making sure all the ingredients are “clean” to genuine curiosity about what ingredients are involved. You can STILL chose the salad as an intuitive eater, but your intention might shift from attempting to “be good” to genuinely craving the fresh, hydrating experience of eating salad.
#8 Not obsessing over health is “healthy”
Along with meals not always making sense, not every meal will also be “healthy” or nutrient dense. Having every meal be “perfect” or full of nutrient dense foods, and not eating any play foods still feeds into food rules and restrictions, which are unhealthy and lead to obsession and binging. Not every meal has to have fruits or vegetables. You don’t have to always add components to “optimize”. Having a mixed diet full of a variety of foods that are both nutrient dense and play foods is more sustainable and leads to better mental AND physical health, as well as a more satisfying life. This way of eating represents what gentle nutrition is all about, as all foods can fit into our eating patterns.
Some other resources for gentle nutrition to accompany the Intuitive Eating book are the book “Gentle Nutrition: A Non-Diet Approach to Healthy Eating” by Rachel Hartley and Leah’s Podcast Episode on Gentle Nutrition.
Did you hear the news? We launched a podcast here at Leah Kern Nutrition! Shoulders Down Podcast is a podcast designed to teach you how to harness your intuition to govern not just how you eat but also how you live. New episodes get released every Tuesday! Click here to listen to our latest episode, “Raising Intuitive Eaters and Protecting Children from Diet Culture with Kate Morris.”
Last modified: April 28, 2023