Gentle nutrition 101

Whether you've heard of 'gentle nutrition' as a standalone concept, or you know it as the last principle of Intuitive Eating, you may be finding it a little challenging. I'm here to help explain what it is, how to approach it - and know if you're ready to engage with it.


What is gentle nutrition?

At its core, gentle nutrition is making food choices based on the health and functioning of your body alongside your pleasure and satisfaction. It is taking external health information and making it work with your internal cues and body awareness. 

It is the last principle of Intuitive Eating, as you want to have the foundation of interoceptive awareness and the ability to listen to your body in order to fully engage with and benefit from gentle nutrition. 

Am I ready to engage with gentle nutrition?

Ask yourself the following:

  • Do I only consider the nutritional value of food when hungry, or do I also take into account what I want to eat?
  • Do you assign a moral value to what you eat, e.g. feeling superior or inferior based on what you consume, especially in relation to others?
  • Do you know how much you can eat and feel well physically?

If you find that you hold no judgment when it comes to the nutritional value of food and instead focus on how it makes you feel, then you're ready to tackle gentle nutrition.

There is no link between what you eat and who you are morally.

Enter 'authentic health'.

What is authentic health?

According to the Intuitive Eating framework by Elyse Resch and Evelyn Tribole, authentic health refers to the 'dynamic integration of inner attunement and outward influences' on health values. This means that if you hear on the news that you "should be eating 10 fruit/veg a day..." you don't automatically jump into an intensive restriction-based regime, but instead think of meals that you know satisfy you – and consider adding some fruit and/or vegetables that you know you like in recipes you know leave you feeling full and satiated. You've taken the external and attuned it to the internal. 

It is trusting you know your body, and then adding the sprinkling of what emerging evidence says is good for us. 

The 3 main pillars of gentle nutrition

If you think of a pyramid from largest to smallest, the baseline of gentle nutrition is adequacy or moderation, variation and balance. 

  1. Adequacy/Moderation: Are you eating enough? Honouring your hunger and fullness cues etc. If you struggle with this then it may be that other aspects of Intuitive Eating are something you need to work on.
  2. Variation: An abundance of nutrients, through enjoyment and addition, not subtraction or restriction. Are you routine in your eating or do you take time to try new recipes or new foods? If you think of a plate full of colour, how does that apply to your meals? This isn't being super strict with nutrient values but rather big-picture thinking.
  3. Balance: Thinking big picture, how does your nutrient balance look over the course of a day or week, not meal to meal?

Consider what you can add to your meals to increase fullness, satisfaction and enjoyment (with maybe the additional extra nutrients as a bonus). Use the previous Intuitive Eating principles to help:

  • Honour your hunger: What do you want to eat, what type of hunger are you experiencing (emotional, practical etc.)?
  • Challenge the food police: No food is 'good' or 'bad'. There are no forbidden foods.
  • Respect your fullness: What foods make you feel full and nourished?
  • Discover the satisfaction factor. What would satisfy you, both now and long term?
  • Honour your emotions: How are you feeling and what do you need to deal with such emotions?

When it comes to taking in nutritional information, ask yourself:

  • Does this require a small addition/adjustment or is it asking for a complete overhaul of my life? If the price is too high, maybe you break the idea down or revisit it later. 
  • Is this information coming from a place of shame and guilt? Will it lead to a cycle of shame, guilt and inevitable restriction, or is it from a place of improving your health/towards a goal you have?

If in doubt if it looks like a diet, acts like a diet and restricts like a diet – it is a diet. And we've rejected the diet mentality (Intuitive Eating principle number 1). And the most common worry is that you think you'll fall into diets again. But that's why you develop a toolkit to deal with diets such as:

  • Having a list at hand of reasons dieting doesn't serve you.
  • Having a social circle to support your journey.
  • Having an increased awareness of what satisfies you.
  • Having the ability to tune into hunger and fullness cues to know when you're underfuelling yourself.

And much more...

I hope this has been helpful, if you want to work one to one, you can always book a discovery call and chat through any questions you have.

To listen to this information, search 'Nourished Practice' wherever you listen to podcasts. Or, visit my website to view the e-book.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Nutritionist Resource are reviewed by our editorial team.

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London, Greater London, SE21
Written by Kacie Shoulders, ANutr
London, Greater London, SE21

Kacie Shoulders is an associate nutritionist and yoga teacher based in South London. She takes a HAES approach to working with clients and focuses on Intuitive Eating and movement.

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