Principle 10 – Honour Your Health: Gentle Nutrition
Principle 10 (the last of the Intuitive Eating principles) is about honouring your body through health and body wisdom. Nutrition is about SO MUCH MORE than just what you do or don’t eat, because it’s also about the ability to listen to your body in relation to certain foods. Eating what we love is important – the previous principles have certainly taught us that. But we can also use gentle nutrition to guide us towards foods that serve our body AS WELL as our taste buds. Tribole & Resche refer to this as “Body-Food Choice Congruence”. It embraces the importance of introspection, or the skill of “tuning in” to our body cues and determining whether a certain food is making us FEEL good.
Health is essentially a measure of how you FEEL:
- Do you have a sore stomach after eating certain foods?
- Are you constantly constipated? Or have diarrhea?
- Do you have a nasty reaction when you eat certain foods?
- Do you feel tired and lethargic if you don’t eat enough (or often enough)?
- Do you feel better and more energised when you eat at certain times of the day?
These are all really important questions to ask yourself when considering food choices. In the realm of mind-body nutrition, we refer to these body messages as “divine symptoms”. If you’re struggling from chronic fatigue and low mood for example, what can this tell us about your lifestyle? What part could your diet be playing in these symptoms? Rather than take a pill to try to “fix” these symptoms, we need to honour our body by LISTENING to these messages. By doing so, we can start to make choices based on “health” and how we feel. Of course we need to consider taste and pleasure when it comes to food, and until you’re comfortable with the moral neutrality of food (i.e. there is no good or bad foods), then taste and pleasure should probably be the primary focus! But once we achieve a solid grounding in food neutrality, we can start to work on re-gaining those skills of body-food choice congruence. When we’ve reached this point, we can begin to see nutrition as a form of self-care, and as a mechanism by which we can honour our body and all that it does for us.
Another important aspect of gentle nutrition is the concept of “play foods”. This term is used instead of the usual “junk foods” to describe foods we enjoy. The problem with using the term “junk food” is that it implies that the food is nutritionally inferior and worthless. The word “play” however, has a much more positive connotation and helps us to view food as valuable for the range of purposes it serves in our life. Play food is food which gives us energy (which we need!) but probably not much else, nutritionally speaking. It is worth remembering that once restriction and “good food vs bad food” is a thing of the past, you will NOT constantly be craving (and eating) play foods. This is the absolute beauty of the way Intuitive Eating works.
When considering whether or not you want to eat a “nutritious” food or a “play” food, INTENTION is always the key. What are you hoping to achieve from eating this food? Do you need energy? Do you want to soothe a sore stomach? Do you want to sit and relax while you enjoy a delicious snack? Then ask yourself what you are basing your motivation or decision on… are you choosing based on nutritional value alone? If so, how do you feel about “play foods”? What are your thoughts around this? Take some time to think these things through, write them down, and identify what sorts of foods you choose more often and why. If you have cravings, what are they for? When and how often? When you eat these foods how do they make you feel?
The final piece of the gentle nutrition puzzle is to consider food wisdom. In our current “wellness culture” this is often something which many people have – they know the ins and outs of which foods contain what, how much of that gives you this, and whether this will cause that. But gentle nutrition (and non-judgemental nutrition) is all about the BASIC nutrition principles – variety, moderation and balance. This is in no way meant to be another set of dietary “rules”, but for those who have not worked through the other Intuitive Eating principles thoroughly, it’s clear to see how these words could have negative associations. If these terms are triggering for you, write about why… what other background work do you need to do before you work on nutrition? If you’re ready to embrace these nutritional terms, consider this:
- Variety – What does this mean to you? Do you feel it is achievable? How could you incorporate variety into not only your diet, but your whole life? If you don’t already follow the work of Deanna Minich, you might want to check it out here, where she talks a lot about eating the “rainbow” as a way of introducing variety into body, mind and soul. Variety is useful on a number of levels. It keeps things interesting, it makes food more pleasurable, and it helps us to get a wide range of nutrients into our body. It’s really important to note that dieting is the best way to KILL variety… diets are notorious for eliminating entire food groups, which does nothing for our quest for variety!
- Moderation – What does this mean to you? Is it dull and boring? Realistic? Do you have “rules” around which foods need to be eaten “in moderation”? If so, have a look at the previous Intuitive Eating principles again, and consider what the word “moderation” really means. We often find that eating moderately is easy to do when adopting an Intuitive Eating approach. When we manage our emotions well, and respond to our hunger/fullness cues, moderation is usually something which comes naturally.
- Balance – What would a balanced diet look like to you? Does this need to be every meal? Or generally balanced? Looking to the way children eat is an excellent reminder of what the word “balance” means. Some days a toddler can eat everything in sight, while the next day they literally eat one cracker and two bites of an apple. Research consistently shows that, nutritionally, things balance themselves out. So, this gives you permission to let go of the need for perfection when considering every meal, every day!