How Gentle Nutrition Can Make You Feel Great: Principle 10 of Intuitive Eating
Gentle nutrition is the principle of Intuitive Eating where taste meets how food makes your body feel.
So, we’ve finally made it to the last principle of Intuitive Eating!
If you haven’t read any of my prior articles on Intuitive Eating, I’d highly recommend that you check out this series on Intuitive Eating, starting with: What is Intuitive Eating?
Principle 10 of Intuitive Eating Is: Honor Your Health With Gentle Nutrition.
“There’s a chapter on Nutrition that’s part of Intuitive Eating?!”
I’ll admit that most women are eager to check out this chapter when they first start working with me. After all, when you start working with a Nutritionist, nutrition should be at the forefront, right?
However, there’s a reason the authors tucked this chapter way in the back of the book:
Nutrition messages are inherently external or extrinsic.
For example, government regulations often set guidelines around a maximum number of fat or sugar grams you should consume in a day.
While some of these messages can be helpful, most of the women with whom I work know lots and lots of nutrition facts. And knowing and acting on all of those facts for years has made them preoccupied, fearful and downright miserable.
And when you are learning to be an intuitive eater, your focus needs to be on turning inward. Inward to your tastes, eating experiences, how food feels in your body, how you experience hunger and fullness without using measuring cups and food scales.
It’s hard to build that level of trust in your body when you are relying on external guidelines.
So, in order to help you take this journey, we need to put the rules to the side – just for now!
The reality is that when you have tuned out all the noise about ‘good and bad’ foods, and you have allowed any and all foods into your diet, your body has the amazing ability to tell you what you need.
Does that sound like a dietitian gone mad?!
Here’s the rub….
Nutrition info just isn’t that complicated.
Yes, I have continued to study nutrition in the past 20 years since I finished my Master’s. And in that period, there’s been a good amount of research. (Some high quality, some not so much).
So, I can present you with information that has a body of scientific literature behind it. But, research often has implicit bias: it rarely takes the effects of restriction into binges and overeating. And thus, research creates some guidelines based on fear.
But, I don’t know what the experience of eating a particular food has in your body.
You are the expert on you!
What is Gentle Nutrition?
Gentle nutrition acknowledges that there is scientific information about what foods are likely to help keep human bodies well-nourished and with a lower risk of disease,
However, gentle nutrition also takes into account the way particular foods make your body feel.
Gentle nutrition lives at the intersection of the satisfaction that comes from the sensory characteristics of our food (taste, satiety, enjoyment) and the way that a food makes you feel strong and alive.
And when you have worked on incorporating the other Intuitive Eating principles into your life, you naturally start to tune in to what your body wants and needs.
You might notice craving salads after a meat-heavy meal; you might also want a light dinner after a large brunch.
The point is that you don’t need points or calculations to make you have these choices; they are within you.
Now, if you attempt to introduce gentle nutrition too early, before you have really made peace your forbidden foods, you may start to hear the voices of your former nutrition rules get even louder. So, dipping your toe in to the concept of gentle nutrition slowly and with intention is vitally important.
How Do I Start Working on Gentle Nutrition?
My advice here is to go slow when you consider implementing gentle nutrition and to follow these steps.
The beauty of Intuitive Eating is being able to filter nutrition messages through your evolved brain so that you don’t instinctively turn to restriction, counting and measuring. You are able to find balance in a way that is unique to your body. Not every day, week or season will look different when it comes to food. Instead, you use your body as the barometer with which you measure your eating experiences.
1. Ask yourself these questions:
- What are your reasons for choosing a particular food? Is it based on calories, fat grams, taste, or something else?? (If you are still wrapped in diet culture and haven’t made peace with food, you might legitimately think that a protein bar tastes just like a candy bar. This means there is a lot more work to do.)
- Are there foods you choose when you know you’ll have a longer period between meals so you don’t end up ravenous. For example, when you’re heading into an afternoon of meetings?
- Are there foods that make you feel physically great that you absolutely love the taste of?
2. Pull out your journal and reflect on the questions above with curiosity.
When I’m working with a woman on her journey towards becoming an intuitive eater, exploring the gentle nutrition chapter is always put off for at least several months. Diving into gentle nutrition without the foundation of satisfaction, having made peace with foods and tuning into hunger and fullness, and working on body trust would set someone back.
However, sometimes we weave elements of exploring gentle nutrition into our earlier work.
Here’s an example:
My client, we’ll call her Katie, loves (loves, loves) bagels. But ever since she started WW (formerly known as Weight Watchers) in high school, where she weighed a bagel and found out that it counted as several bread servings, she has vowed not to eat them. So, she either eats some high protein, high fiber bagels that taste OK, but they can’t hold a candle to the bagels of her youth.
But, when she is back home in New York visiting family, she can’t get enough of those bagels. She eats a couple and feels uncomfortably full.
Given years of the same experience, Katie has convinced herself that she is addicted to bagels and can’t eat them. She has the evidence to prove it! Her house never contains bagels because she knows she will overeat them if she dares to take a bite.
So, in our work together, Katie starts working on bringing bagels into the house. She does eat more than one. She still hears the nutrition voice in her head that keeps saying, “do you know how many slices of bread ONE bagel contains?!?!’ That nutrition voice isn’t gentle. It is trying to shame Katie for eating one of her favorite foods.
Several weeks go by and Katie is eating her bagel for breakfast and starts to notice that she is getting full after ¾ of a bagel. So, she stops eating and goes to work. About an hour later, Katie starts to notice a feeling of hunger in her stomach.
Working on IE for some time, Katie puts on her curiosity cap and wonders why should might be hungry.
She next wonders if ADDING something to her breakfast might give her added satiety that makes her meal last for a few hours, until lunch. With a curious mind, she remembers that protein can help our blood sugar levels more even. Then, she takes some time to think of protein foods she loves.
“An egg with my bagel would be delicious!”
Now, this is a subtle difference but a difference from most mainstream nutrition advice.
“You should eat x grams of protein at every meal OR limit your sugar each day.”
Gentle nutrition is where taste and satiety meets feeling great in your body!
If you’re new to Intuitive Eating, please don’t start with gentle nutrition.
Take the time to explore the earlier principles so you can get the results you want:
♦saying goodbye to guilt and cravings;
♦being able to eat all foods in a way that makes you feel good;
♦knowing that you can trust your body to tell you what it needs.
If you’re not sure why this is important and why you shouldn’t be starting with Principle 10 of Intuitive Eating, please book a free 15-minute call with me so we can discuss your next best steps.
Have you been reading my series on Intuitive Eating? I’ve created a free PDF download 10 Principles of Intuitive Eating cheat sheet. If you’re just getting started with learning about Intuitive Eating, use this resource and hang it on your fridge so you can have the Intuitive Eating principles at your fingertips.
Download your copy here.
Kelly Abramson MS, RD is a dietitian and Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor who works with clients in Alexandria, VA and virtually via telehealth. She guides women as they break free from dieting to find joy in food and their bodies. Kelly blogs regularly at NpowerYou.com and has created a free e-book for download, “7 Steps to Overcome Stress Eating.”