What is gentle nutrition?
Gentle nutrition is the final guiding principle of the intuitive eating process. The 10 principles of intuitive eating focus on rejecting the diet mentality, abolishing food rules, learning your body’s cues for hunger and fullness, and practicing body respect. An important part of intuitive eating, gentle nutrition focuses on how to honor your physical health with food so you can balance your diet with foods that both taste good AND feel good in your body.
Why is gentle nutrition the last step in the process?
Gentle nutrition is the last step in the intuitive eating process for a very good reason. The intuitive eating process is intended to help you heal your relationship with food. Many people find intuitive eating to be a helpful tool to break free from the rigid rules and harsh judgment they feel when dieting.
When we think about eating for our health, many of us are drawn back to old diet rules and black and white thinking. We might be tempted to view foods as either all “good” or all “bad,” and begin to think of ourselves as good or bad for eating them. It’s important to establish a foundation of food neutrality and trust in our bodies cues for hunger, fullness, and satisfaction before thinking about eating for physical health. Without this foundation, you may find yourself stuck once more in a restrictive eating cycle.
How do you know if you’re ready for gentle nutrition?
To see if you’re ready to practice gentle nutrition, try answering these questions:
- Do you tend to struggle to recognize or ignore your hunger cues?
- Do you regularly eat past comfortable fullness, not knowing how or when to stop eating?
- Do you refer to foods as either being “good” or “bad” for you?
- Do you often feel guilty or ashamed for eating certain foods?
- Are there foods that you regularly avoid because you fear you cannot trust yourself around them?
- Is food a primary coping mechanism for when you are feeling emotional?
- Do you feel an urgency to practice gentle nutrition in the hopes it will result in weight loss?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, it may be a good idea to revisit the earlier intuitive eating principles before trying to practice gentle nutrition!
How to practice gentle nutrition
First, identify how you want to feel in your body when you eat:
- Do you want to feel less tired and avoid an afternoon slump?
- Do you want to stay fuller, longer between meals?
- Do you want to avoid blood sugar spikes and crashes that zap your energy?
- Do you want to have more regular bowel movements?
- Do you want to sleep more soundly at night?
Keep a food journal to document how you feel after eating your meals and snacks. You may start to identify trends like:
- Eating more regular meals helps you stay more focused
- Adding a portion of carbohydrates to meals helps you feel more energized
- Adding protein to meals helps reduce uncomfortable blood sugar spikes and crashes
- Adding fat to meals helps you feel more satiated for longer
- Eating more fiber-rich foods and drinking more water makes bowel movements more regular and less painful
- Eating a balanced snack before bed helps you sleep more soundly through the night
These trends reflect some gentle nutrition practices that can be summed up as:
- Consistency, or eating regularly throughout the day
- Adequacy, or eating when you’re moderately hungry and stopping when you’re comfortably full
- Balance, or eating a balance of carbohydrates, protein, fat, and fiber at meals and snacks
- Variety, or eating lots of different foods that provide a variety of nutrients AND satisfaction
Gentle nutrition is more about adding nutrient-dense foods to your diet rather than taking pleasurable foods away. You can be intentional about your food choices for your health without being restrictive. Balancing nutrient-dense foods with pleasure-dense foods creates a healthy balance that honors both your physical AND your mental health. Nutrient dense foods include:
- Fruits and vegetables that are rich in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants
- Whole grains and carbohydrates that are rich in fiber
- Fats that are rich with anti-inflammatory omega-3’s
- Proteins that contain all the essential amino acid building blocks
Gentle nutrition should always be rooted in body trust. Incorporating gentle nutrition should not come at the expense of your taste preferences or your ability to achieve satisfaction with meals. It also should not jeopardize having a healthy relationship with food. Consider some of these thoughts motivation “red flags”:
- “I should order the salad because that’s more nutritious than the burger, even though I would enjoy the burger more”
- “I have to eat exactly 5 servings of vegetables every day or I’ll become nutrient deficient”
- “I should cut out gluten because my friend told me it’s healthier, even though I’ve never noticed a difference in my own body”
Finally, gentle nutrition that honors physical health will look different for everyone. Everyone has different health values just like everyone has different taste preferences. Identify your own health values so that you can eat in a way that feels authentic to you:
- You want to eat in a way that helps you manage your blood sugar
- You want to eat in a way that helps lower your cholesterol
- You want to eat in a way that reduces your digestive symptoms
- You want to eat in a way that supports your recovery from an eating disorder
- You want to eat in a way that effectively fuels your active lifestyle
- You want to eat in a way that supports the child you are carrying
- And more!
How can a dietitian help you incorporate gentle nutrition?
Working with a dietitian can be helpful as you navigate intuitive eating and gentle nutrition. We’re here to support you by:
- Navigating the intuitive eating principles from start to finish to improve your relationship with food
- Providing tools to help you listen to your body’s cues for hunger, fullness, and satisfaction
- Dispeling harmful nutrition misinformation that may be preventing you from making food choices that are in line with your health values
- Providing education about nutrient dense foods that may help you feel better in your body
- Teaching you how to meal plan and meal prep so that you can achieve consistency, adequacy, and balance at your meals and snacks
- Troubleshooting areas that feel hard– emotionally or logistically
Are you ready to get started? Reach out today to schedule your appointment and embark on your own gentle nutrition journey.
Thoughtfully reviewed and updated on July 7th, 2022
Kristin Jenkins, MS, RD is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist. Kristin specializes in eating disorders and intuitive eating, and is an advocate for weight-inclusive care for all her clients.