Often, as a person starts their journey toward becoming an intuitive eater, there is a lot of concern about where nutrition comes in. The process of rejecting diet mentality and making peace with food can make it feel like nutrition is being thrown out the window, and that makes people nervous!
I think some of this fear comes from the intense pressure we as a culture put on food as it relates to our health. The belief that, if we eat a cheeseburger, our cholesterol will skyrocket. Or, if we don't drink organic, cold-pressed juices every day for breakfast, then our liver won't be properly "detoxified" or function as it should.
In reality, one day or week or even month of eating just isn't going to have that much of an impact. It's the overall, big picture trends that really matter. Not only that, but food is just one small part of what impacts our health. Even if we ate perfectly 100% of the time, there is still sleeping habits, stress management, activity level, genetic predisposition, and more to consider when it comes to our overall health.
Because of all the pressure around nutrition and the food rules we've picked up over the years as a result, gentle nutrition is really one of the last things we approach in the intuitive eating process. That doesn't mean that nutrition isn't important. It's just very easy to turn nutrition into a set of rules or moral judgements if you haven't already done the work of making peace with food and learning to truly trust your body's signals.
However, once you've done some of that work and can eat without judgement, you can begin to utilize gentle nutrition as another tool for guiding your food choices. Below are some ways you might do that. If you aren't sure that you're ready for this step, make sure you're getting our Intuitive Eating Tip Series via email because week 10 includes a quiz that assesses your readiness. It also recommends principles to revisit if you're not quite ready for gentle nutrition yet.
Consider the intention.
One of the biggest hang-ups with incorporating gentle nutrition is the intention behind eating decisions. Are you choosing the salad because you view it as a "good" food or because you haven't had many vegetables today and your body is craving them? Are you eating Halo Top because you genuinely like the taste or because you feel like you "shouldn't" eat actual ice cream? Do you eat spaghetti squash because you think carbs and/or pasta are "bad" or because you enjoy the taste and texture of squash? Are you having a smoothie for breakfast because it's refreshing and satisfying or because you're afraid to eat your favorite toast because "carbs are bad?"
Consider enjoyment and satisfaction.
Many times, you can add nutrition to a meal with a simple swap that doesn't impact the overall enjoyment of the meal. This is practicing gentle nutrition. You are still having a meal that is enjoyable and satisfying but, with essentially no effort, you've added some extra fiber, vitamins, minerals, etc. In the process of becoming an intuitive eater, you learn to rely on internal cues and preferences to identify what you truly want to eat. You consider what taste, texture, or temperature of food sound good in addition to your hunger level and perhaps how long this particular meal or snack needs to stick with you. Nutrition just becomes one of these components to consider.
Say you're craving pizza for dinner, but you would also like to get some more vegetables into your day. Rather than deciding to just skip the pizza altogether, you might add a salad on the side or order a pizza with vegetables on it if that's something you enjoy. Or, perhaps you'd like to add some more fiber or whole grains, so you decide to try a whole wheat crust. Or, maybe you're craving ice cream in the middle of the afternoon, but you know you still have a lot to get done and that you needed a snack to keep you full and satisfied until dinner time. In this situation, you could practice gentle nutrition by choosing to enjoy some full fat yogurt with fruit and nuts or granola to still have a sweet and cool snack, but one with added protein, fat, and fiber to keep you full and energized for a longer period of time. You could always enjoy the ice cream later if you were still craving it. As you can see, simple switches or add-ins can allow you to honor your cravings while still considering nutrition. The important thing is that none of these swaps become a "rule" that must be followed. You don't always have to have salad with your pizza, you can eat pizza that doesn't have a whole wheat crust, and you can eat ice cream in the afternoon if you want it. Nutrition becomes just one factor of many that can help guide your food choices. Rather than judging your cravings or making foods off limits, you can honor both your cravings and your desire to incorporate nutritious foods into your life.
Make sure you click below if you haven't already signed up for our 10 week Intuitive Eating Tip Series in your inbox (which is different from weekly blog post emails). Like I mentioned above, the quiz in week 10 is a helpful way to know if you're ready for gentle nutrition or if you should go back to one of the earlier principles!