5 Gentle Nutrition Tips for Intuitive Eaters
A common myth with intuitive eating is that nutrition doesn’t matter. The truth: anti-diet is not anti-nutrition. Nutrition is still a part of intuitive eating. However, opposite of diet mentality, intuitive eating takes a gentle approach to nutrition. This post explores 5 gentle nutrition tips so you can practice nutrition without obsession.
Why Gentle Nutrition?
As a nutrition professional, I love learning about how food can serve as fuel for optimal health. But I also know that nutrition isn’t the end-all-be-all of health.
That’s why my nutrition philosophy emphasizes nourishment, flexibility, and variety. This aligns with the 10th principle of intuitive eating, Honor Your Health with Gentle Nutrition.
Co-authors of Intuitive Eating, Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, expand on this principle:
Make food choices that honor your health and taste buds while making you feel well. Remember that you don’t have to eat perfectly to be healthy. You will not suddenly get a nutrient deficiency or gain weight from one snack, one meal, or one day of eating. It’s what you eat consistently over time that matters– progress not perfection is what counts.
Gentle nutrition rests on a healthy relationship with food. When we make peace with foods and practice unconditional permission to eat, we’re able to eat for our mind, body, and soul. Remember to detach from diet mentality before proceeding with gentle nutrition.
Gentle Nutrition Examples
So what does gentle nutrition look like in real life? I’m glad you asked. Here are common examples of gentle nutrition from various perspectives:
- Following a gluten-free diet because you have celiac disease.
- Including high-fiber foods in your meal to benefit your GI tract.
- Adding protein and healthy fats to your meal to promote fullness.
- Adding fruits and veggies to your dietary intake for more antioxidants, in a manner that you enjoy.
- Prepping a few basic ingredients for the week to decrease meal-time stress.
Gentle nutrition is also being okay with a meal that doesn’t have fruits or vegetables because you trust that dietary intake over time matters more than one meal or snack.
5 Gentle Nutrition Tips for Intuitive Eaters
1. LISTEN TO YOUR BODY & BRAIN.
Listening to your body and brain is all about determining what foods and eating patterns work best for you. Disclaimer: this will look different on everyone.
For example, I’ve learned that I feel my best when my afternoon snack includes a carbohydrate paired with protein (sliced apple with peanut butter, greek yogurt and granola, etc.) Most of the time, I choose afternoon snacks with this combo because it’s what gives me the best sustained energy in the afternoon.
However, if a friend makes cookies or I test a new dessert recipe, I’ll probably have it! I make the choice knowing that my body and brain might have a little sugar buzz, but it doesn’t last forever.
All of this information that I’ve learned about myself goes into what I call my bank of “personalized body knowledge”.
Start developing your bank of personalized body knowledge:
- What foods make you feel your best?
- What foods do you prefer in the morning versus the evening?
- Do you feel better when you have larger meals during the day or smaller more frequent meals?
You can reference your personalized body knowledge when making food choices.
2. STOCK YOUR KITCHEN.
Keeping a well-stocked fridge, freezer, and pantry makes it easy to eat home-cooked meals.
Note: cooking at home does not mean never eat out. You can still enjoy eating at restaurants and picking up convenience foods, while also cooking at home more.
A well-stocked kitchen is one with a variety of your favorite foods, wholesome foods, and convenient foods.
For example, one of my clients found that she consistently ate lunch (versus skipping it) when she had a well-stocked kitchen. She made it a habit to grocery shop at least once every two weeks. Her shopping list included ingredients for two homemade dinners per week and a few convenient items, such as freezer burritos, frozen veggies, and mac and cheese. Lunches became consistent when she could enjoy dinner leftovers or an easy option like mac and cheese with broccoli!
Check out my Meals in Minutes from Pantry Staples for inspo as you stock your kitchen.
3. ADD, DON’T SUBTRACT.
Focus on foods you can add to your diet versus foods you “should” subtract from your diet.
For example, to promote heart health you might focus on adding fiber-rich foods to your diet to lower LDL cholesterol. This includes foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes. Perhaps you like the taste of whole-grain bread (pleasing for the taste buds) and enjoy the higher fiber content (making you feel well) as a bonus!
Continuing with our example of reducing cholesterol, you might also consider cutting back on foods high in saturated fat. Instead of: I can’t have any red meat because it’s higher in saturated fat. Think: What are some delicious plant-based sources of protein or leaner cuts of meat I can add to my diet?
You might explore swapping fatty fish for red meat once per week or implement a “Meatless Monday” meal. Notice you aren’t cutting back on food altogether. You are swapping in new foods and ingredients that are health-promoting.
4. ZOOM OUT.
Diet culture makes us believe that we have to zoom in and micromanage food. It fuels the belief that every meal has to be a perfect meal in order to be healthy. This couldn’t be further from the truth.
The 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines emphasize the importance of a healthy dietary pattern as a whole— rather than on individual nutrients, foods, or food groups in isolation. The Guidelines also explicitly emphasize that a healthy dietary pattern is not a rigid prescription.
Do you feel guilty when you eat a meal without vegetables? Are you worried that you won’t meet your protein needs because your breakfast was high in carbs without any protein?
This food guilt and worry is unnecessary. That’s why I help women ditch food guilt and find food freedom.
Next time you catch yourself zooming in, pause and zoom out. Use these prompts to look at the big picture:
- Generally speaking, are you eating enough food?
- In an average week, are you eating a variety of foods from the various food groups?
- Are there certain foods or food groups that you restrict?
Remember, taking a holistic approach does not mean scrutinizing every little food choice.
5. HONOR FOOD PREFERENCES.
I’m often asked, “How do I distinguish between a food preference vs. a food rule?”
This is a fantastic question! Intuitive eating guides us to ditch food rules, but we are still allowed to have food preferences.
For example, if you have celiac disease, avoiding gluten would be a food preference because it’s what enables you to best take care of yourself and feel your best. However, if you don’t have celiac disease, avoiding gluten due to fear or old diet beliefs would be leaning towards a food rule.
Food preferences are rooted in self-care, while food rules are rooted in self-control.
Another example, I LOVE sweet foods (ask any of my friends). But I prefer to eat them after a meal or later in the day. If I eat a sweet food for breakfast, I usually feel blah. So when I turn down a breakfast donut, it’s out of preference, not a rule.
To distinguish between food preference vs. food rule ask: Is this choice rooted in self-care or self-control? Observe the difference.
Intuitive Eating Support
If you want to focus on your health goals through a non-diet lens, contact me for nutrition coaching. Gentle nutrition can be confusing at first, but it’s 100% worth it for a lifetime of food freedom.