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Living Joyfully Nourished: 3 Things You’ll Need to Master the Art of Gentle Nutrition

What is a Gentle Nutrition?

The authors of Intuitive Eating (IE) define gentle nutrition as “making food choices that honor your health and taste buds while making you feel good (1).” It’s the art of eating healthfully for your unique body, while also enjoying all the wonderful flavors it brings. Yum!

Sounds like a pretty sweet deal, right? 

You probably won’t hear this at the doctor’s office, but YES, it is possible for you to find the balance of eating for health and pleasure! You can achieve authentic health with gentle nutrition. However, there are a few prerequisites that are important to mention.

Why Gentle Nutrition is the Last Principle of Intuitive Eating

As I have previously shared in my Respect Your Body blog post, “Honoring Your Health with Gentle Nutrition” is the last principle of IE. Authors Tribole and Resch have indicated that making it the 10th principle was intentional. 

Hyperfocusing on nutrition can often lead to an unhealthy obsession with foods and eating behavior. For example, multiple eating disorders, such as anorexia and orthorexia nervosa, involve categorization of foods as “good” or “bad,” thus leading to strict food rules and restrictive eating patterns (2).

Attempting gentle nutrition while also holding onto the diet mentality is a recipe for disaster (no pun intended). What should be a healthful practice can become a catalyst for food restriction, body dissatisfaction, and/or disordered eating.

Gentle Nutrition Versus Dieting

Now you might be wondering: “so, what’s the difference between gentle nutrition and hopping on a harmless diet trend every once in a while to lose weight and get healthy? Aren’t some diets supposed to be good for the prevention and treatment of certain diseases?” I’m glad you asked!

Here’s a few ways in which gentle nutrition can be a more healthful choice than dieting:

  • Gentle nutrition emphasizes foods to ADD, while dieting tells you what to AVOID
  • Gentle nutrition focuses on how food makes you feel INSIDE, while dieting focuses on more superficial factors like how you look on the OUTSIDE
  • Gentle nutrition allows FOOD FREEDOM, while dieting endorses FOOD RESTRICTION

So I’ll ask this question: would you want to live a life that promotes authentic health through gentle nutrition or through restrictive dieting? You are more than just a body that needs to balance “calories in versus calories out.” 

If you need more proof of the physically, mentally, and emotionally damaging effects of dieting, check out this blog post. Several studies indicate that the more restrictive a diet is, the more likely it is to result in long-term health consequences(3,4).

Julia in pink top with black and white striped cardigan in IG post image that says "here's how to nourish your body without dieting!"

3 Things You’ll Need to Master the Art of Gentle Nutrition

Finding what gentle nutrition is for you truly is an art. Now that we’ve covered the basics of gentle nutrition and how it promotes authentic health, let’s talk about the 3 things you’ll need to master it!

1. A Healthy Relationship with Food and Your Body

I really don’t think this can be overemphasized. If you try to make changes to your eating while struggling with a restrictive diet mentality and intense body dissatisfaction, you won’t experience authentic health.

Letting go of diet tools and rules, challenging the food police, and learning to accept your perfectly imperfect, God-given body are essential to honoring your health with gentle nutrition and living your Joyfully Nourished Life.

However, this doesn’t mean that you have to LOVE your body or the foods you’re eating right now! You simply want to start with some of the other principles of IE, like rejecting the diet mentality, making peace with food, and respecting your body. 

It is 100% okay to take your time here without rushing into changing your nutrition. You can check out my Resources page for links to the Intuitive Eating books, tools, and other weight-inclusive health organizations. Also, I have TONS of relevant content for you and more on the JNL blog and IG page!

2. A Basic Understanding of Human Nutrition

The key word here is “basic.” Please don’t feel like you have to understand all the intricacies of the human body! Unless you’re a health or nutrition professional, you won’t see the forest because you’ll get lost in the trees.

Here are a few fundamental concepts that will help you prioritize gentle nutrition:

  • Aiming for 3 meals + 1-3 snacks a day in between is sufficient for most individuals
  • Eating a meal or snack every 3-5 hours during the day can help sustain energy, fuel your metabolism, and regulate blood sugar
  • A nutritious meal typically consists of a balance of carbohydrates (or carbs), proteins, fats, and fiber
    • Carbs: grains (bread, rice, pasta, quinoa, crackers), fruits, starchy vegetables (peas, beans, potatoes, corn), milk, yogurt
    • Proteins: red meats (pork, beef, lamb), cheese, fish, poultry (chicken, turkey), soy products, beans
    • Fats: butter, oil, margarine, salad dressings, nuts (peanuts, almonds, walnuts), seeds (flaxseed, chia seeds, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds), avocados, mayo
    • Fiber: fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, legumes 
  • The Plate Method can be a helpful way to plan meals that make room for each food group (5)
  • Many of the foods listed above and others carry special properties that are associated with health promotion and disease prevention; these are called functional foods (6)
  • Drinking water is essential for staying hydrated; most adults need between 2-3 liters (~8-12 cups) per day (7)
  • One day of eating will NOT make or break your health; it’s daily habits over an extended period of time that impact health
MyPlate model with fork, plate showing red section labeled fruit, green section labeled vegetables, orange section labeled grains, purple section labeled protein, and blue cup for dairy

3. Readiness to Prioritize Healthy Lifestyle Change

All my JNL dietitian friends will know where I’m going with this one! Assessing your own readiness to change is a big part of adopting and mastering gentle nutrition.

In the study of health behavior counseling, there is a concept called the Stages of Change that is often used by counselors to determine whether an individual is ready to adopt specific changes in behavior, such as dietary changes to improve health (8).

These are the 6 Stages of Change:

  • Precontemplation: unable to recognize any need for change; not ready to make any changes
  • Contemplation: able to recognize the need to change but may see significant barriers; getting ready to make a change
  • Preparation: has made the decision to initiate behavior change soon; ready to start making changes and develop a plan
  • Action: has actively begun the process of changing behavior; may benefit from support to sustain behavior change
  • Maintenance: has sustained the behavior change for an extended period; may benefit from a community that has adopted similar changes for additional accountability
  • Termination or Relapse: Full adoption of healthy behavior into lifestyle or returning to an earlier stage as a result of discontinuing a behavior change

Which of these stages of change do you most identify with when it comes to gentle nutrition? 

If you’re in precontemplation, you may see no need to change anything about your eating (which is okay!). However, if you’re in contemplation, you recognize that a change is needed to feel your best, but you may be considering the challenges of what this could mean for you.

Do you have the resources and information you need to make a change? What support do you need to make behavior change easier? Are there certain benefits behavior change can unlock for you? What could be the consequences of choosing not to make this change?

Living Joyfully Nourished Through Gentle Nutrition

Living your unique version of the Joyfully Nourished Life includes discovering what gentle nutrition means to you. 

For some, it means giving yourself the freedom to enjoy fun, playful foods that were once restricted. For others, it may mean learning to prioritize healthful food choices that help you feel your best and also promote health and longevity.

No matter what your perspective is, I genuinely believe that adopting gentle nutrition can be a blessing in your life! What is your favorite takeaway from this week’s blog post? Feel free to share in the comments below!

Much love, friends! <3

Julia in white shirt and jeans standing next to kitchen counter with healthy foods

Hey there!

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With your purchase, your friendly neighborhood nutrition expert (that’s me!) will then reach out via email to learn more about your specific health-related interests, challenges, and goals!

Oh, and don’t forget to check out my latest JNL freebies here and here!

Much love, friends! 

XOXO,

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