There's this misconception that when we begin to eat more intuitively, we'll immediately go out and eat only energy-dense (cupcakes, bread, fried items) foods, and I think it's pretty ridiculous. For one thing, all foods are part of a healthy eating pattern if you are aiming to listen to and satisfy your body as opposed to micromanaging its size via food. Healthy eating requires enjoyment and pleasure! Also, respecting your cravings actually makes you less likely to restrict/diet and then binge as a result, meaning you can eat without the back of your mind screaming that the diet starts tomorrow or you'll have to run/swim/whatever xxx miles to "make up for it." The bottom line is that your motivation for nutrition has to come from a place of body respect - not an attempt to change your body.
Another thing intuitive eating allows us to do is to make food decisions without panic or second thoughts. I have IBS, meaning that while we all have foods that make us feel better/worse physically than others, my body is a little more tuned into those triggers/non-triggers and I sometimes have a lot of discomfort related to that. I used to be frustrated that I had some extra physical cues to tune into, but the experience has given me more perspective on how gentle nutrition + intuitive eating can blend into/support each other.
HOW INTUITIVE EATING LEADS TO GENTLE NUTRITION
Prior to intuitive eating, I actually didn't eat with any concern for my IBS - instead, I ate with concern to weight. So, when I ate tons and tons of vegetables (even though the huge amount of fiber was not sitting well), I had symptoms flare. And then, when I ended up eating highly palatable foods like brownies/ice cream/cake, I ate much past my fullness/satisfaction levels because I figured I had already "ruined" the day and I may as well eat the whole thing. Which was also horrible for my IBS, because too much of any food is pretty physically uncomfortable for my digestive system.
An intuitive eating approach lays the groundwork for gentle nutrition by decreasing the crazy restrict/binge feelings you have around food, and then and only then can you start to incorporate some gentle nutrition principles into your life in a way that's healthy for your body AND your soul. It's similar to how you can't pursue balance - you have to let a balanced life find you.
If you've read Intuitive Eating (and if you haven't, please pause and order immediately on Amazon because it is SO GOOD), you know that there are 10 basic principles...
PRINCIPLES OF INTUITIVE EATING
- Reject the diet mentality.
- Honor your hunger.
- Make peace with food.
- Challenge the food police.
- Feel your fullness.
- Discover the satisfaction factor.
- Cope with your emotions without using food.
- Respect your body.
- Exercise - feel the difference.
- Honor your health - gentle nutrition.
There's a reason gentle nutrition is the last one - you have to dig through the first nine in order to be prepared to really take on this final topic. We also have to get through those first nine principles in any/every eating situation in order to determine if it's even appropriate to apply gentle nutrition at that time.
QUESTIONS TO ASK YOURSELF
Before considering nutrition/how food can serve your body, ask yourself these questions first. If we eat purely for nutrition first, satisfaction can be lacking which can also lead to a binge-restrict cycle.
- Am I hungry?
- Will this food be satisfying, or am I using it as a placeholder? (i.e., eating a salad to "hold off" hunger when you really want a sandwich)
- Am I eating this food to dull or escape emotion?
And then start applying nutrition and balance to your meals. Intuitive eating doesn't disregard health - it acknowledges and embraces that health is multifaceted, and that physical health isn't worth compromising mental and emotional health.
INTUITIVE EATING VS. DIETING MINDSET
Before intuitive eating, thoughts can look like this:
I'm being "good" and only eating salads for lunch and dinner (or some other arbitrary food rule). But that brownie someone brought into work looks pretty good, and I don't want to be rude, so I'll try a little.
Well, my day is already "ruined", so I'll have another one. And another.
And before you know it, you're a few brownies in and because you're engrained in diet culture, you feel really horrible about the "damage" you did to your body or weight and you start the whole thing over again.
Here's a few ways it could look after intuitive eating:
I'm excited to eat the salad I brought for lunch, because it's delicious and I know it will make my body feel great. I'll have one of those brownies because they're also delicious and I know it will nourish my soul. My digestive system has been a little upset lately, so I will probably just have the one brownie because I don't want to feel sick, and I know I can always find or bake more later if I want.
It could also look like...
I'm excited to eat the salad I brought for lunch, because it's delicious and I know it will make my body feel great. I'll have one or two of those brownies because they're also delicious and I know they'll nourish my soul. Actually, these brownies are much more satisfying than my salad/sandwich/lunch, so I'm going to have more and that's okay because satisfying my cravings feels much less stressful than having an upset stomach today.
And so on. There's really no right answer or thought process here, but the bottom line is your food decisions can't be driven by weight. If you let your cravings, hunger, satisfaction, and gentle concern for your digestive system or other factors have a voice, not only will things even out over time, but your stress around food will go wayyy down.
ACTIONABLE WAYS TO GUIDE GENTLE NUTRITION
Here's some simple ways to guide gentle nutrition:
- Embrace that eating evens out over time and striving for balance can be self-sabotaging. Instead, take it meal-by-meal and trust that your body will lead you to eat a variety of foods.
- Hydration isn't as intuitive as eating, so find hydration reminder that works for you! I like this tip from Barre3 or the app Plant Nanny!
- Explore your store! Try a new fruit or vegetable each time you go shopping, or order something new when you eat out.
- If it feels right, try a visual method of balancing your plate (below).
VISUAL BALANCE WITH PLATE SUGGESTIONS
The biggest problem I have with MyPlate or any other plate-based suggestion is that they come with a "one-plate-fits-all" mentality - which is definitely false, even within your own life on a day-to-day basis. I love this combo of three plates (adapted from Body Kindness) that lets you adjust your plate at each meal.
And remember, this is just a suggestion, and there will be times that your plate is 100% pasta or 100% salad or 100% ice cream and that's cool too. By listening to your body and respecting its cravings, you'll be less likely to restrict/avoid cravings and binge as a result. You'll also feel less crazy around food, which is my favorite benefit. Your brain space has much better uses that worrying about food!
FINDING GOOD RESOURCES FOR NUTRITION
Pinterest is not a dietitian, and neither are Google or Facebook or your mom's cousin's roommate's hairdresser (and neither is Dr. Oz, for the record). Everyone has an opinion about food and nutrition, because everyone eats and diet culture is (unfortunately) the norm in our society right now. It's frustrating, but true. And sometimes we have to *pretend to* listen and nod and politely say "Oh, that's interesting" because it's not worth the trouble of arguing... but then on our own, use reputable resources for information and digest it with a calm but critical eye.
Here's some good reading to revisit as you need:
- Sugar is not addictive
- Reframing disordered thoughts and beliefs
- I can't love my body at this weight
- Diets in disguise
- Should I eat the cookie?
- How I feel will always take priority over how I look
A NOTE ON MEDICAL NUTRITION
When it comes to medical conditions that require special patterns of eating, sometimes satisfaction has to take a backseat to not causing physical harm with food - like with a peanut allergy or a kidney condition. Extreme ways of eating are for extreme circumstances. If you have a medical condition that affects how or what you can eat, I highly recommend finding an RDN that practices from an intuitive eating/HAES standpoint to guide you as you progress. Need help? Email me here.
How do you let gentle nutrition play into intuitive eating? Share below and let's help each other out!
PS - if you're looking for help diving into intuitive eating, email me to set up a free discovery call.
Blog posts from Satisfy Nutrition are for educational purposes only and are not a substitute for individualized advice from a medical professional. If needed, the NEDA Hotline can be reached at 800-931-2237.