Gentle nutrition seems to be the principle of intuitive eating that everyone is itching to get to. It makes sense, considering it’s the “healthy” step and most of us have been dieting for decades in an effort to be healthy. Many feel uncomfortable with the other steps to becoming an intuitive eater because they force you to face diet culture head on, get rid of all the rules you were told would keep you safe and thin, and begin to allow all foods–including the ones you fear the most. You’ve written off all diets for good, but the phase of initial weight gain has been terrifying. You’re ready to get to introducing salads and vegetables back into your life without it feeling diet-y.
If you are well into your intuitive eating journey and feel like gentle nutrition is a step you’re ready for, here are six tips to help you incorporate it in a way that still feels freeing and allows you to feel good in your body.
- Ask “What can I add to my diet” that I actually like? Since you’ve been allowing all foods, now is the time you can start being choosy. You’ve been allowing everything because there are no more rules! But now you’re starting to notice that some foods were put on a pedestal simply because you weren’t allowed to have them…and now you’re noticing you don’t even like them. This is how I felt about donuts and many cookies. I just didn’t actually care about them, especially now that I could add any sweets I wanted–like ice cream and brownies! On the other hand, make sure you’re adding back in nutritious foods you actually like. If you’re adding them simply because you think you should, that’s diet culture talking again. I will never eat kale because I don’t like it–unless it’s a chip. It may be a superfood, but I’m super not into it.
- What can I add to my diet (from a place of abundance) that is nutritious and will leave me feeling energized and satisfied? I REALLY love roasted broccoli with pecorino romano cheese. I could have that every day, and I feel so good after eating it. I love many roasted vegetables, eggs in almost any style, salads, fruits, yogurt, oatmeal…those foods taste so good to me and leave me feeling satisfied and energized. If the food leaves you feeling sluggish, gassy, bloated, or otherwise negative in some way, you can still choose not to eat it, even though you’ve given yourself permission to eat all foods. But instead of focusing on what you are taking out, focus more on what you can add in. I love spaghetti squash, so I add that in sometimes instead of pasta to give myself a veggie. I make sure to drink a lot of water and tea. I add fruit to my oatmeal or yogurt. I add healthy fats like avocado and cheese to my salads with dressings that aren’t just vinegar or lemon juice. Restriction leads to bingeing and overall feelings of scarcity; focus on what you can give yourself more of–more water, vegetables, protein, fiber, movement, etc.–as an act of self love.
- Check in halfway through the meal. How does it taste? Does it still taste as good as the first bite, or are you just eating out of distraction or habit? How does your stomach feel in terms of physical fullness? Are you eating too quickly out of shame or are you allowing yourself to truly enjoy it? With gentle nutrition, you are allowing yourself to feel pleasantly full.
- How am I feeling after this meal? Some of us don’t digest certain foods well. I personally don’t do well with fried foods. Whatever oil they typically cook it in leaves me feeling very sluggish and constipated for days. I don’t avoid fried things because they’re “unhealthy” – I avoid them because my goal is to always feel good in my body. If I ever do choose fried foods, though, it’s because I’ve made the conscious decision that I’m okay with feeling a little less than stellar later because I know I’ll truly enjoy it in the moment.
- Stay curious and keep experimenting. It took me a while to find out that fried foods don’t agree with me. I wasn’t figuring out the pattern right away. So instead of feeling shame and frustration when you don’t feel great after a meal, approach the situation with curiosity. Hmm, I wonder what is causing me to feel this way. What can I do next time to avoid this feeling? Maybe it’s avoiding that food altogether or maybe it’s just adjusting the quantity. I find I can have one, maybe two, slices of pizza before the gas comes. That’s my limit. Maybe yours is different.
- Don’t turn anything into a rule. I don’t have a rule that I can never have pasta just because I enjoy spaghetti squash, or that I can never have the whole egg simply because I like egg white omelets. I don’t have a rule that just because I don’t like most donuts that I won’t allow myself a toasted coconut or blueberry one (because I LOVE those!). Learn to live in the gray. There are exceptions to everything in life. The black and white thinking is what got you stuck in the first place, so I encourage you to smudge those lines.