Gentle Nutrition: The Non-Diet Approach to Optimal Health and Happiness

written by MICHELLE KING
Source: @sakaralife
Source: @sakaralife

In a world filled with conflicting diet trends and rigid rules around what to eat, many women have turned to intuitive eating as a different way to approach their eating habits. But there’s a common misconception that intuitive eating means ignoring all nutritional advice and eating “whatever you want.” You don’t want to have strict rules and are so over yo-yo dieting, but you also want to eat healthy foods that make you feel amazing. Gentle nutrition is probably the piece you’ve been missing. This overlooked principle encourages you to enjoy meals that fuel your body with foods that bring both happiness and nourishment. Read on to learn more about this compassionate approach to eating and discover simple strategies for applying it to your life. 


What is Gentle Nutrition?

Gentle nutrition is the final step of the intuitive eating framework, which was developed by Evelyn Tribole, MS, RD, CEDRD-S, and Elyse Resch, MS, RD, CED-s, authors of Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Anti Diet Approach. This final step toward food freedom encourages individuals to make food choices based on a combination of nutritional knowledge and their body’s innate cues. Rather than micromanaging what you eat, gentle nutrition considers your desires, like having pizza with friends, along with your nutritional needs, like protein and fiber. This lets you live a life without restriction and also helps you feel your best. In other words, gentle nutrition means honoring how food makes you feel and what food you want. For example, it might look like having a salad with a slice of pizza to get a combination of phytonutrients, fiber, and joy on your plate. 

Gentle nutrition doesn’t prescribe a one-size-fits-all approach to eating because it recognizes that everyone’s health needs and personal preferences are unique. Instead, it encourages you to ditch the diet mentality, skip counting calories, and throw out your food scale. By eliminating food rules, you’re better able to make healthy eating decisions based on your body’s needs and signals. 


Is Gentle Nutrition Right for You?

While gentle nutrition can be a transformative approach to nourishing your body, it’s not for everyone. Before diving into this eating style, it’s important to feel confident in the first nine principles of intuitive eating, such as rejecting diet mentality and honoring your hunger, which means knowing food and hunger are good things that your body needs to survive, and deserve to feel pleasure. These foundational principles create the framework to break free from diet culture and listen to your body’s needs. Mastering these principles will help you approach gentle nutrition from a place of self-love, honoring your health and your taste buds. Note: If you have a history of disordered eating, it’s recommended that you work toward gentle nutrition with a trained expert.


How To Incorporate Gentle Nutrition Into Your Life


1. Add, don’t subtract, foods

The beauty of gentle nutrition is that no foods are off-limits and all foods are morally equivalent. However, you’ll likely find that having a box of cookies at breakfast or a bag of chips in the afternoon doesn’t provide the energy you need to feel your best throughout the day. Registered dietitian Megan Hilbert advises against completely swearing off certain foods like cookies and chips. Limiting or depriving foods can lead to bingeing or an unhealthy relationship with food. Instead, she suggests combining foods that you want but doesn’t make you feel good with more nutritionally-dense ingredients, such as healthy fats or protein, to create a more balanced and energizing meal.


2. Opt for healthy meals that actually taste good

It goes without saying that a balanced approach to eating doesn’t mean you can eat desserts all day. However, it also doesn’t mean eating bland chicken breasts and unseasoned veggies on repeat. The key here is finding balance, and one of the easiest ways to do that is by discovering healthy meals that actually taste good. This may involve enhancing your typical salad with toppings like dressing and croutons, despite diet culture’s labeling of these foods as “unhealthy,” knowing you’re also filling your body with amazing nutrients from the veggies, or if you don’t like salad, don’t eat salad. It could also look like adding your favorite veggies and protein to a cheesy pot of mac and cheese, transforming it into a flavorful and nutritious dish, or making nutrient-dense versions of your favorite foods like a cauliflower crust pizza or chickpea pasta. 


3. Tap into your body’s hunger and fullness cues

Diet culture undermines women’s trust in their own bodies, promoting the use of calorie-counting, macro-tracking, and food scales to determine what and how much to eat. While these tools can be helpful for some women, others find them exhausting and even harmful. So how do you really know how much to eat? Gentle nutrition encourages you to tap into your body’s hunger and fullness cues. Some days your body may need more energy and, in turn, will rev up your hunger. On other days, your body may need less energy, so your appetite will follow suit. Following these cues will help ensure you’re fueling your body with the amount of food that’s truly best for your body. 


4. Focus on self-care, not self-control

Gentle nutrition encourages you to reframe your relationship with food and make decisions on how to fuel your body from a place of self-care, not self-control. Nutritionist and intuitive eating counselor, Kara Lydon, encourages gentle nutrition practitioners to check in with themselves: “If practicing nutrition principles becomes rigid and the control you’re exerting is what’s making you feel good, it’s time to re-evaluate because that’s not the essence of gentle nutrition,” she said. 

Consider how your eating habits make you feel. If they are rigid and you experience guilt when deviating from certain rules or nutritional guidelines, you’re not practicing gentle nutrition. However, if your eating habits feel balanced, allow for a variety of foods, and bring you joy instead of shame, you’re likely making food choices from a place of self-love.


...and I actually felt happier