Gentle Nutrition Doesn't Need to be Scary
If you have read the book Intuitive Eating, you know the last principle is to use gentle nutrition. Sometimes, when people get to this chapter of the book, they think “Ok, here is where the diet comes in. I knew this was a bait and switch situation.” This feeling may be even more heightened for those learning about eating intuitively from social media because it is so much more difficult to convey in one short sentence or post all of the nuance involved in truly paying attention to what your body is telling you. While I don’t think I can convey all of that nuance in a blog post, hopefully I can get you thinking a little more deeply about your relationship with and approach to gentle nutrition.
Many people conceptualize eating intuitively as being able to eat whatever they want whenever they want it. This mindset really embraces the concepts of giving yourself permission to eat all foods, rejecting the diet mentality, and honoring your hunger. While it is absolutely true that it is important to be able to honor yourself when you identify a food that sounds good, it is also completely fine to consider how you want to feel later when you are making choices about food and eating. And the good news is, you can do both of these things at the same time. Remember, giving yourself full permission with food means that you don’t have to eat it all right now - you can eat that food another time as well. (The concept of giving yourself full permission is explained in greater detail in this blog post.)
So this is where things can start to get a little confusing. You might be thinking to yourself, “So if I just eat whatever I want whenever I want, that means I will only be eating (fill in the blank for yourself) all day long.” If you consider how you will feel after eating, though, that is less likely to be the case. When we talk about this with our clients and ask them how they feel if they sit down to a meal of just one thing, they are able to identify that they don’t feel great. It may be that they experience discomfort or it may be something more subtle like they feel too full or don’t feel full for very long, but the signs are there. Sometimes, eating intuitively means paying attention to how you feel after you eat a meal, not just what sounds good in the moment. It also means paying attention to how your body feels over time when you eat in more balanced ways.
If you have read the book Intuitive Eating, you know that the chapter about gentle nutrition comes at the end. This was a very deliberate choice by the authors. It is important not only to go through all of the other steps related to intuitive eating first, it is also critical to be able to sit with these ideas and to really commit to your relationship with food before trying to tackle the nutrition side of things. For many people, especially those with a history of chronic dieting, it can take months or even years to truly accept that they can look inside of themselves for cues about what, when, and how much to eat. It is also so critical to hold in your mind that while nutrition is important for health, there are many other things that play into both physical and mental health. Nutrition is one component in a long list of factors.
As I mentioned in the beginning, there is a lot of nuance to incorporating gentle nutrition into your eating patterns. This post is intended to get you started thinking about what it means for you and hopefully spark curiosity. If you feel like you have more questions than answers, that is ok, too - there is a lot to unpack when it comes to your relationship with nutrition. I encourage you to take time with this, be gentle with yourself, and remember that after a lifetime of thinking about food and nutrition one way it can be really difficult to approach through a different lens. And, if you would like more support, consider making an appointment here.