You know that feeling you get when you’ve just vacuumed your house and tidied everything up? When you’ve fluffed the cushions on your couch, the dishes are done, washing folded (and put away) and you feel like all is right with your home? I love that feeling. It’s this amazing mix of satisfaction, feeling relaxed, less anxious, slightly smug (let’s be honest, ha ha!) and downright happy.
And I want that feeling with my eating too… how about you?
But it feels like the “gentle nutrition” part of intuitive eating always sits between you and that happy/satisfied/relaxed feeling with your eating amiright? Sure you’ve kicked the diet mentality and found peace with food, but you’re still working away on gentle nutrition (oh, and not overeating too).
You have the best intentions to start making healthier choices – but when push comes to shove, you find yourself choosing cravings over nutrition. What’s with that?
Why We Choose Cravings Over Gentle Nutrition
Deprivation girlfriend. That is why we choose cravings.
Because we’ve spent a life-time eating “healthy foods” that we didn’t damn-well like, all in the name of a diet (or the latest healthy eating fad). We’ve forced ourselves to eat super-foods that were more expensive than a movie ticket (which is already pretty damn expensive). We’ve pushed ourselves to cook and create sugar-free treats and tried to convince ourselves that we loved that caramel-free caramel slice (yuck!).
We need, from the very bottom of our heart, to enjoy food in the moment again…. before we can even contemplate thinking about nutrition and health again.
You’ve been hurt by diets. And it takes time to recover from that hurt. But the great news is, that intuitive eating is the gentle, natural way to move through that hurt and rebuild your relationship with food again. And why is that important?
Healthy Eating is About More Than Eating Healthy Food
Totally nutrition-centric, weight-obsessed instagrammers would have you believe that healthy eating is about eating the most nutritious food you can possibly find at every possible eating occasion.
As though if you miss the opportunity to pick the most nutritious food for your morning snack today you’ve doomed yourself to a 25kg weight gain and 100-fold increase in your risk of every cancer, cardiovascular disease and dementia.
I mean, really?! Take a chill-pill nutrition-obsessed instagrammers. Sigh.
Just as food is about more than the nutrients that it contains.
Healthy eating is about more than healthy foods.
Healthy eating actually has two equally important parts to it:
- Healthy eating is having a healthy balance of foods in your life, and
- Healthy eating is having a healthy relationship with food.
And when you think about it that way – you’re already a LONG way along that path to reaching #2, thanks to your intuitive eating right? Whereas, how well is that nutrition-obsessed instagrammer doing with #2? Not well, let me tell you. Not well at all.
So while you’re hammering yourself about not getting #1 sorted yet, just remember that you’ve got #2 well underway and that needs celebrating.
Please give yourself a hug or a high-five right now. Yasss.
So now what? Let’s talk about #1 – how do you start making real progress with it?
Honouring Gentle Nutrition – Creating A Healthy Balance Of Foods In Your Life
Warning: If you haven’t yet created a healthy relationship WITH food, then please put aside gentle nutrition for now and instead focus your time, love and energy on building a healthy relationship with food. Try starting here for some tips.
If you’re happy with your new loving relationship with all foods, you’ve given up dieting and deprivation, you’ve made peace with food and you feel ready to take things to the next level, then dig in to with these helpful tips on gentle nutrition:
Tip 1 – You Don’t Have To Eat Perfectly To Be Healthy
I know this will ruin the day for a lot of people selling diet books and meal plans (#sorry-not-sorry), but it’s just not true. You don’t need to be perfect. You don’t need a perfectly mapped out breakfast, lunch and dinner, with perfectly healthy snacks to qualify as a “healthy eater”. Ugh. No. There is no such thing as perfection in life and definitely not in eating. So can you just give this one up for ever?
Tip 2 – It’s What You Eat Consistently Over Time That Matters
So it doesn’t really matter what you eat for one meal, or one snack or even one day… it’s what you eat consistently over time. If you mostly have a nourishing, sustaining breakfast that you enjoy – then that’s awesome. Notice the word “mostly”? That’s a powerful word right there. And that word, my friend, is the different between the food police barking a rule in your head and you being guided by gentle nutrition, as in: “I mostly eat a nourishing, sustaining breakfast.” That’s quite different from a food police rule: “I MUST EAT a nourishing, sustaining breakfast every day”… err no, and please go away food police.
Tip 3 – Focus On How You Feel After Eating
Because once you’ve removed the guilt and morality from food and eating, now you can truly feel how you physically respond to foods – and that becomes a huge motivator in choosing what to eat. Do you feel energised or sluggish after eating a certain meal or snack? You’ll notice with time, that more nutritious foods leave you feeling more energised and well after you eat them. You can then, in turn, use that knowledge to guide you in deciding what to eat at meal-times. The decision then becomes: 1) what do I feel like eating? and 2) how would I feel if I ate that food? You then decide whether to eat the food based on how you feel about the responses to BOTH of those questions.
Tip 4 – Think About Adding Foods To Your Life
Rather than focusing on removing foods from your life (which is a horrible diety way to look at things. Ugh). Instead think of gentle nutrition as a way to include more of the nutritious foods you love into your meals and snacks. Then you’ve got something to look forward to, instead of something to dread.
Tip 5 – Make A List Of Fruits and Vegetables You Love
Yes a list! Lists are good sometimes! So list out all the fruits and veges you love, including your favourite way of preparing them – some you might like raw, others you might like stir-fried or roasted. Maybe you prefer your fave fruits in a fruit salad – write it all down, so you’ve got a fantabulous list of the favourite ways you can enjoy your fave fruits and veges – now start thinking about how you can regularly add these dishes/snacks into your life. And hello? You’ve now added more nutritious fruits and veges into your lifestyle – that’s #winning with gentle nutrition.
Tip 6 – Add Your Fave Vegetables or Legumes Into Existing Dishes
It’s as simple as grating a carrot or courgette/zucchini into your spaghetti bolognaise sauce as it cooks, or throwing some lentils or beans into your casserole, or tossing some tinned chickpeas into your salad. You don’t need to create a whole separate dish to boost your nutrient intake, you can simply boost the nutrient content of existing dishes. But as with ALL things intuitive eating, it needs to be done in a way that honours your satisfaction: so does the dish still taste good with the added grated veges? If so, keep preparing it that way. If you don’t like the flavour with the added veges, then try different veges or simply don’t add the veges to it.
You need to honour your taste buds to ensure this is a sustainable way to eat for you – happy and healthy is the goal!
Tip 7 – Make A List Of Nutrient Dense Foods You Love
Foods like nuts, seeds, avocado, beans, fish, wholegrains, and calcium-rich foods like milk, cheese, yoghurt are all really rich in nutrients per bite. Adding these foods into your lifestyle will add a lot of nutrients – fantastic news. But that’s only great if YOU enjoy eating them. So go through that list and work out which ones you love eating – create a list of nutrient dense foods you love, how you life them prepared (e.g. smashed avo on wholegrain toast, or maybe you prefer it on sourdough, or white bread – you pick). The key (again), is to find a #winning way to regularly include them in your lifestyle, so it’s something to look forward to.
Tip 8 – Swap Out Refined Foods For Those Closer To Their Natural Form
What the heck does that mean?! Well God didn’t create trees that grow slices of white bread. Nor did He create trees that grow wholemeal bread, for that matter. But wholemeal bread is closer to the natural form of wheat than white bread. So if you like toast for breakfast, or sandwiches for lunch, or english muffins with a poached egg – try choosing a bread that’s closer to its natural version. Aim for wholemeal or wholegrain.
Ditto the same for rice and pasta – try out brown rice and wholemeal pasta. A simple swap that will quickly and easily boost your fibre and nutrient intake. You didn’t have to cook anything extra, or fiddle around with weird ingredients, it’s just a simple swap.
As always with intuitive eating – it needs to taste good to you! So if you try the wholemeal/wholegrain version and really don’t like it, then you don’t have to keep eating it. Go back to your regular bread, or try a different wholemeal bread. It’s about finding more nutritious foods that you enjoy and are sustainable for you.
The golden rule (always) is: If you don’t like it, don’t eat it.
Tip 9 – Try To Eat More Home-Cooked Meals
This is definitely not about adding more things to your to-do list. But one of the most positive impacts you can have on your nutrient intake is to eat more home-cooked meals. They typically are higher in minerals, vitamins, antioxidants and good fats, while also being lower in salt, sugar and saturated fat. It’s a recipe for success!
Personally I use a foodbox service (HelloFresh), because I just can’t be bothered making decisions on what to eat each week. So our week includes three HelloFresh main meals, and then 4 homecooked meals of our own choice – which might include a roast chicken (that’ll last 2 nights for our family of 4 with 2 younger kids), a sausage night to please the kids, me using older HelloFresh recipes to make tasty stirfries or chicken dishes, or pulling a couple of my fave recipes from some family-friendly cookbooks. And often we have leftovers that we’ll use up one night too… which brings me to my next point.
Tip 10 – Double-Up On Your Prep & Home-Cooked Meals
You can save yourself a lot of time and energy, and boost your nutrient intake, by simply preparing more food than you need at any given meal so you can eat it later for lunches and dinners. Whether it’s peeling and chopping more carrots, making extra salad, doubling the meat in a casserole so you have two nights worth. Always look for a way to maximise the food output you’re creating with little extra effort.
If you’re already cutting up raw meat for a casserole, it’s not a big deal to just add more so the casserole is bigger and lasts longer – either freeze it for next week, enjoy it for lunch, or save for a family dinner on one of those busy weeknights.
Just make extras and freeze them whenever you can.
Tip 11 – Make Sure You Get Enough Good Quality Sleep
What the heck has this got to do with gentle nutrition?! A lot. When you’re tired you’ll crave more energy dense, quick to eat snack foods that are high in sugar, fat, salt and all that delish stuff, but obviously not what you’d call “nutritious” snacks. You might feel bad because you’re constantly craving those sweet snacks. But the craving is not the problem – it’s the lack of sleep that’s the problem. Fix the sleep and the craving will disappear. There’s no point trying to fight those cravings with pleadings to your inner self to choose gentle nutrition. Your body is tired and it will do, what it will do, until you give it the rest it needs. Make sense? Get more sleep.
Tip 12 – Actively Lower Your Stress With Relaxation Techniques
Okay, again, what has this got to do with gentle nutrition?! Same again girlfriend. Studies have shown, time and again, that stress can cause use to crave more energy dense, quick to eat snack foods that are high in sugar, fat and salt. And again, the cravings are not the problem – it’s the unresolved stress that’s the problem. You don’t need to fix the cravings and push yourself towards gentle nutrition. You’ll find you have a greater natural attraction to gentle nutrition when you resolve your stress. Use these tips for self-care to get started now.
Use these tips and you’ll be well on your way to getting somewhere with your gentle nutrition goals. Just remember always to be kind and compassionate to yourself – good things take time.