Gentle nutrition is probably something you’ve heard of before you’ve been learning about intuitive eating for a while. Maybe your favorite intuitive eating or anti-diet account has written about it or maybe you’ve talked about it with a dietitian on our team before!
The foundation of intuitive eating is made up of 10 principles, but the principle of gentle nutrition is often saved for last. Putting off talking about nutrition might seem counter-intuitive, but there’s a good reason for it! In today’s blog post, we’ll explain what “gentle nutrition” means, why it comes later in your journey toward intuitive eating, and how to put it to practice.
Table of Contents
What is Gentle Nutrition?
In their books, dietitians and co-creators of Intuitive Eating, Elyse Resch and Evelyn Tribole talk in depth about gentle nutrition. On the intuitive eating website, they define “gentle nutrition” as:
“Make food choices that honor your health and taste buds while making you feel good. Remember that you don’t have to eat perfectly to be healthy. You will not suddenly get a nutrient deficiency or become unhealthy, 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.”
As mentioned previously, gentle nutrition is the last principle of intuitive eating, and this is intentional! Most of the time, nutrition has to be put on the backburner when you’re trying to improve your relationship with food and become an intuitive eater. This is due to the critical step of making peace with food and letting go of diet culture messaging and influences that must occur BEFORE focusing on nutrition. If this step is skipped, you’ll lack a solid foundation for a healthy relationship with food and are more likely to turn gentle nutrition into another diet rather than true intuitive eating.
Examples of Gentle Nutrition
- Adding pasta made from chickpeas or lentils to your meal to give it a protein and fiber boost. Which may help you feel more full and satisfied after.
- Packing some veggies and hummus for a snack instead of grabbing a candy bar because you found that choosing the candy results in an energy crash an hour later.
- Choosing to put different fruits and vegetables in your morning smoothie so you can give your body a dose of vitamins and minerals that can be good for your health and help keep you from getting sick.
- Playing around with your portion sizes by eating more or less food or different kinds of food because you found that you’re not feeling so great after meals.
The Pyramid of Nutrition Priorities
As you can see in the image above, there is an order of importance when it comes to nutrition. This is the pyramid to nutrition priorities when it comes to your diet (credit to Eric Helms). Here are the different levels explained:
- Calories are first & MOST important: Eating enough food is our main priority and this is our foundation for nutrition.
- Macronutrients are next: This is important to ensure that you are eating a variety of foods to make sure that you’re satisfying your various nutrient demands. This means including carbs, protein, and fat in your meals and snacks.
- Micronutrients: Often forgotten about but very important. Think of macronutrients as being the gas in your car, micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) are the oil and lubricants.
- Meal timing: Has importance but not as much as most people think. This might look like consuming enough before and after exercise to help your body exercise and recover properly.
- Supplements: Although supplements can help with filling any nutritional gaps, they should not be used in place of eating adequately.
Gentle Nutrition Tip #1: Aim for a wide variety of foods
As humans, we’re hardwired to crave different things, and that’s because eating a wide range of foods helps us make sure we’re getting enough nutrition. Different foods have different nutrients, so eating a wide variety of foods (not just fruits and vegetables, but also proteins, fats, nuts and seeds, and carbohydrate, etc.) protects us from nutrient deficiencies, makes sure we get enough nutrients, and gives us plenty of phytonutrients that fight disease.
You can add more variety to your meals by trying new foods, changing up your spices, or trying out new recipes. Look at what you already eat and see if there are any areas where you might be interested and willing to try to add more nutrition.
Gentle Nutrition Tip #2: Discover the satisfaction factor with food
There are numerous factors that go into the satisfaction of an eating experience, and they extend beyond just the taste of the food. The location or environment, including the people you are surrounded by, the taste and quality of the food, cravings, and eating enough to be comfortably full and nourished all impact satisfaction. Here are some tips for increasing satisfaction after a meal or snack:
- Ask yourself what you really want to eat. Do you feel like something sweet, savory, salty, crunchy, soft, creamy, tart, rich, bitter, spicy or bland?
- Keep a variety of foods available, when possible. Having options means you set yourself up for a more satisfactory meal or snack.
- Make your eating experience more enjoyable. Sit down at the table and have a set time for eating. Try to avoid distractions (aka put the electronics away) while eating so you can be more mindful.
- Check in during the meal to assess your level of satisfaction. Pausing frequently to assess how you’re feeling can help you decide when to stop eating to promote health, energy, comfort and fullness.
Gentle Nutrition Tip #3: Focus on addition, not subtraction
Most diet advice and diets in general focuses on restriction – ways to eat less, limit certain foods, “healthy” food swaps. With intuitive eating, all foods fit, and all foods have the same moral value (aka you’re not a “bad” person for having a cookie, just like you’re not morally “good” for having a salad), but of course, some foods are more nutrient-dense than others. Here are some ways that you can focus on addition, not subtraction when it comes to nutrition:
- How can you include more fruit? Can you include a side of fruit with your breakfast or add it to your snacks?
- How can you include more vegetables? Can you scramble spinach into your morning eggs, add more veggies to your lunch and dinner meals?
- How can you include more whole grains? Can you switch your morning English muffin to whole grain, pack whole grain crackers to pair with hummus for a snack?
Not everyone reading this will be ready for gentle nutrition… and that’s OK! If diet mindset is strongly ingrained in you, or if you’re actively involved in an eating disorder/disordered eating, it’s best to start by healing your relationship with food. Wherever you are in your journey, we’re here to help! You can schedule a free call with us here today!