The author of this post, Madison Surdyke, is the founder of Sunny Thymes and is an integrative nutrition health coach on a mission to help women transform their mindsets, make peace with food and their bodies and reclaim their freedom in life. She is also a recipe developer and food photographer, providing you will a variety of fun, delicious recipes to allow you to discover which ones satisfy you and feel good in your body.
What is gentle nutrition?
Gentle nutrition is the last of the 10 principles in the book Intuitive Eating. It’s all about eating what tastes good to you and what makes you feel good. Nutrition doesn’t have to be restrictive, judge-y, rigid or overly complicated. Instead, it can be flexible, gentle and exploratory.
In the culture we live in today, we’re taught soooo many rules about what you should and shouldn’t eat. You have people who can “prove” dairy is good for you and creates strong bones. You also have people who can “prove” dairy is bad for you and can lead to respiratory issues, etc. Usually in science there are hard and fast facts; like we all know water is H2O, it’s not CO2. Everyone agrees the speed of light is 670 million miles per hour. It’s science. But isn’t it odd with nutrition that there are millions of conflicting ideas out there? So who’s right? Who can we trust?
We have to trust ourselves and our intuition and stop letting diet culture take away our freedom and power. When we put the focus on external factors like counting calories, controlling portions or the latest diet, we lose sight of how food actually makes us feel. Today, whatever is the trend is the trend and there’s no REAL evidence. One day it’s the high protein diet, then it’s whole30, then it’s keto. But why aren’t we listening to our own internal wisdom?
Our bodies have bio-individual nutrition needs and there is not a single one size fits all approach that works for everybody. If we trusted every source out there to tell us what foods to avoid, we’d literally be left with nothing to eat. This was me a few years ago. I was legitimately scared of pretty much every single food because of all of the “nutrition” advice I was consuming (which, by the way was actually just disordered eating tips disguised as wellness). You are the ONLY person who knows what works for your body and gentle nutrition can help you get in touch with that.
Are you ready for gentle nutrition?
Gentle nutrition is part of the 7th step in my 8 Steps to Food Freedom, Nourish Your Mind, Body & Soul. It comes near the end because we have to do the work of breaking free from the diet mindset and making peace with food first. If not, nutrition just becomes information we use to attempt to override our natural biological cues and a weapon to keep us at war with food and our bodies. Instead, when you work on healing your relationship with food first, nutrition becomes a tool to respect and honor your health and body.
Ask yourself if thinking about nutrition feel safe and neutral or if it stirs up diet mindset thinking? If it stirs up anxiety or the desire to “control” food, ask yourself if you’re really ready to incorporate nutrition into your food choices (not as the primary driver, but as a tool). If not, what can you do to work on healing your relationship with food and your body first?
My 8 Steps to Food Freedom is the framework I teach in my online course, The Subtle Art of Food Freedom and in my 1:1 health coaching with my clients. If you’re interested in learning more about my 8 Steps to Food Freedom, click here to schedule a free initial health consultation with me! I’d love to hear from you.
So how can you practice gentle nutrition?
Here’s 7 ideas for how you can put it into practice.
- Consider Your Intentions
The intentions behind our decisions matter more than the decisions themselves. Make decisions with the intention of truly caring for yourself. Are you choosing a certain food because you genuinely want to enjoy the taste of it, think it will feel good in your body and know it will be satisfying? Or are you choosing to eat a certain food because it’s low calorie even though you know it’s not what you truly want? Are you choosing the salad because it sounds really fresh and delicious right now or are you choosing it to be “healthy” or “skinny”? Start to ask yourselves questions like these when your making food choices and notice what comes up for you.
- Focus on the bigger picture, not individual food choices
When you focus on your individual choices within a day, it’s easy to be critical but healthy eating is about balance over time; not within 1 particular day. Instead, how can you focus on the bigger picture patterns? Are there any areas you’d like to try adding more nutritionally dense foods? Are there times where you’d like more flexibility with your food choices? Are there times where you feel bored with your food and want to explore new foods?
Reducing eating to individual food choices or individual ingredients is reductionist thinking at best. For example, yes, we know that turmeric may have anti-inflammatory components and that cinnamon can help lower blood sugar for someone with diabetes. But this doesn’t mean that putting cinnamon and turmeric on everything you eat will make you perfectly healthy. When you isolate ingredients or individual foods as magical potions (aka superfoods), you fail to acknowledge the fact that foods interact with each other. This is why looking at the bigger picture and variety is so much more important. When you zoom in and focus on just 1 or a few ingredients, you are missing the bigger picture.
- Eat a variety
When we eat a wide variety of foods, it helps to naturally ensure we are getting adequate nutrition and cultivates greater diversity in our gut bacteria which we are starting to learn has a strong connection with our health. Having diverse gut bacteria can help with digestion, blood sugar levels, diabetes risk, brain health and so much more.
When you are eating a variety of foods, it’s essentially impossible to overdo it on food that is lower in nutritional content. Variety can also make eating really fun because it gives you the opportunity to explore any foods that sound good to you. If you knew you could eat absolutely anything in the world, what would you try? What new cuisines could you experiment with? What new seasonings can you try? What new recipes would you want to explore?
- Focus on inclusion, not exclusion
Instead of focusing on excluding or limiting certain foods, get curious about how you can add in more nutrient-dense foods. How can you include more healthy fats like avocados, salmon, olive oil, nuts, seeds, etc? How can you add more vegetables and fruit to your meals or snacks? Maybe have some fruit as a mid-morning snack, make kale & sweet potato lentil curry for dinner, add fruit to a smoothie or make a sweet potato chickpea couscous bowl. How can you add in more leafy greens? Maybe add spinach to your smoothie or eggs in the morning or make a sunny bowl for lunch (one of my FAV nutrient-dense meals that is also colorful, flavorful and satisfying to me).
How can you incorporate more whole grains? Maybe try a few different whole grain breads and see if you like any of them, experiment with different grains in your cooking like quinoa, brown rice, oatmeal or explore whole grain pasta options. How can you incorporate more foods from the earth? Maybe you go on an adventure to the local farmer’s market and buy some fun foods that you’ve never had before.
How can you incorporate more probiotics and fermented foods? Maybe find a fun flavor of kombucha you like to drink, make a yummy yogurt bowl with fun toppings or maybe try some pickled red onions on your burger.
What foods do you want to incorporate more of? What sounds good to you? What do you think will feel good in YOUR body.
- Experiment with what feels good for YOUR mind, body and soul
Paying attention to how you feel with curiosity, not judgement can help you make more nutritious choices overall. You’ll want to feel good and feeling good comes with listening to YOUR individual needs. Experiment with new recipes and types of food and allow yourself to gently notice what works for you and what doesn’t.
- Experiment with cooking at home more often
When you cook at home it’s easier to include more fresh foods and ingredients but it doesn’t have to be perfectly “clean”. Sure “whole” foods have greater nutritional value over “processed” foods but that doesn’t mean processed foods should be shunned. Sometimes processed food can make eating healthy more accessible. For example, maybe you use a pre-made grain and veggie blend from the freezer section at the store so that you have more time to actually sit down and enjoy it with your family. I LOVE the melodious blend from the freezer section at Trader Joe’s. I use it to make my 20 minute lentil & spinach curry; it’s super easy and so delish!
- Listen to your hunger, fullness and satiety cues
I cover this more in depth in step 4 of my 8 steps to food freedom, food biology & emotionality, but just remember only YOU know the “right” amount and type of food for you and listening to your internal, intuitive cues like your hunger, fullness and satisfaction levels is what allows you to tune into that. See if you can notice the ways that hunger, fullness and satisfaction signals show up for you in your body and mind. In what ways can you best honor those signals?
A few questions to ask yourself when incorporating the 7 tips for gentle nutrition:
- If I could have anything in the world right now to eat, what might that be?
- What will this food feel like in my body?
- Am I choosing this food from a place of self-care or self-control?
- Will this food satisfy me and give me pleasure?
- What’s my main motivation for wanting to choose this food?
Want to learn more about food freedom and making peace with food and your body?
Click here to schedule a free initial health consultation with me!