I get asked all the time how gentle nutrition differs from other forms of nutrition counselling. The simple answer is, we don’t focus on restricting your food. We focus on ADDING foods & helping you tune into your own unique body while focusing on your health goals!
When I ask new clients, “when you think of hiring someone for nutrition advice, what do you think of?” Usually their answer is something like, “I think of being given a generic meal plan.” Or “I think of having to remove the foods I love.”
Gentle nutrition is the exact opposite of this!
What is Gentle Nutrition?
Inside of intuitive eating, gentle nutrition is the 10th principle. (And for good reason! Check out the paragraph below titled: When is the Right Time for Gentle Nutrition to find out why!)
As a nutrition professional I will acknowledge any day that there is scientific evidence that certain patterns of eating do reduce disease & contribute to health. I chose to go to nutrition school to learn and understand what is actual science backed nutrition truth.
Just because a specific study says that apples, celery and cacao is right for you and your health goals, that doesn’t mean that those foods feel good for you to eat! Your body may be telling you that celery does not feel good. Tuning into our bodies allows us to not fall into the trap of, “but science says…”
However, I will also acknowledge that restrictive ways of eating, focusing on weight loss and lists of food rules contribute greatly to disordered eating. And often, nutrition advice comes with a focus on restriction, weight loss & long lists of food rules.
Even if the person handing out the advice is an educated nutrition professional.
Gentle nutrition takes all of these factors into account. It leans into science & trustworthy studies to know the truth about what sort of nutrition will aid you and your health goals.
It also teaches you to lean into your bodies own satisfaction factor, it teaches you to trust your body.
Gentle nutrition does NOT focus on weight loss, food restriction or food rules!
When is the Right Time for Gentle Nutrition?
Gentle nutrition is the 10th and final principle of intuitive eating for a reason!
Majority of my clients come to me after years or decades of listening to food rules and likely restricting foods as well. When we begin to dive into healing their relationship with food, that old dieting mentality tends to want to make even intuitive eating into a diet.
It seems like second nature to hear, “honour your hunger & fullness” and then for clients to study the hunger & fullness scale intensely and beat themselves up when they eat before they were actually hungry or if they ate beyond fullness.
That’s making honouring your hunger & fullness into a diet!
Or when we focus on foods that help you stay satisfied for longer periods of times, clients lean so hard into the satisfaction factor that they find themselves binging on non-satisfying foods because they now believe those are “bad” foods for them.
That’s making the satisfaction factor into a diet!
I’ve even experienced clients who take the principles on moving your body to the extreme. They hear how great a certain amount or type of exercise is for them and they force themselves to follow through with it, even if they absolutely hate that form of movement.
That’s not healthy!
THIS is why gentle nutrition is the final principle. We truly want you to embrace and move through all 9 other principles first. We want you to grapple with them, challenge yourself within them and embrace them for yourself prior to gentle nutrition.
I want to review several examples of gentle nutrition with you below! Please keep in mind: gentle nutrition will look different for EVERY SINGLE PERSON.
It SHOULD look different to every single person!
I simply want to give you insight into what it could potentially look like to focus on gentle nutrition with these different illnesses/diseases & health goals.
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Gentle Nutrition Example: PCOS
PCOS stands for polycystic ovary syndrome. PCOS affects women’s ovaries which are the organs that produce both estrogen & progesterone. These hormones affect a woman’s menstrual cycle.
Often when I have clients who have PCOS they have health goals like reversing their insulin resistance, regulating their blood sugars & having regular periods.
Here are a few of the things I tend to focus on with clients who have PCOS once they are ready to lean into gentle nutrition.
When a woman is struggling to have regular periods, I often recommend seed cycling. Inside of seed cycling a woman eats specific seeds during different times of her cycle.
During her follicular phase (your follicular phase begins on the first day you get your period and usually lasts for 14 days) she eats 1 tbsp of freshly ground pumpkin seeds daily and 1 tbsp of freshly ground pumpkin seeds daily. These seeds help regulate estrogen during the first half of your cycle.
During her luteal phase (your luteal phase begins on day 15 of your cycle and ends once you get your period again) she eats 1 tbsp of freshly ground sunflower seeds daily & 1 tbsp of freshly ground sesame seeds daily. These seeds help regulate progesterone during the second half of your cycle!
By eating seeds that help regulate estrogen during your follicular phase and seeds that help to regulate progesterone during your luteal phase, most women experience a more regular period.
You will notice how the focus inside of seed cycling is on ADDING foods into your diet instead of taking them away!
If a woman with PCOS wants to focus on either reducing her insulin resistance or balancing her blood sugars, I tend to focus on similar things as I would with those who have prediabetes.
Gentle Nutrition Example: Prediabetes
When a client with prediabetes wants to lean into gentle nutrition, most of the focus tends to be on increasing their sensitivity to insulin and balancing their blood sugar.
When you have prediabetes your pancreas either doesn’t produce enough insulin anymore or it doesn’t know how to utilize the insulin it does produce. Because of this insulin resistance tends to rear its head and therefore blood sugars tend to be high!
Here are a few things I tend to focus on with clients who have prediabetes once they are ready to lean into gentle nutrition.
First, we focus on properly pairing foods. When you are diagnosed with prediabetes foods like bread, cultural foods & sugar tend to be demonized.
The truth is, you can absolutely still focus on lowering your A1c (a test to measure your average blood sugar levels in the past 3 months) while having your favourite foods!
The key is to learn to pair your foods correctly. To ensure that majority of your meals & snacks have components of fat, protein, carbs & fibre.
It can be helpful for those with prediabetes to track their blood sugars 2 hours after most meals and their fasting blood sugar levels for several months to help them better understand which food pairings their bodies like best!
Because guess what: even specific food pairings work better for some people then others!
Another focus with clients who have been diagnosed with prediabetes is eating more consistently.
Often clients will be eating breakfast at 6AM, lunch at 1PM and dinner at 7PM. That’s 7 & 6 hours between meals! For optimal blood sugar levels, we want to be eating according to your hunger & fullness and seeing if that lands more between 3-5 hours instead of 6-7 hours.
Stress management and movement are also great focuses for those with prediabetes as studies show us that these also tend to lower blood sugar levels.
Eating more regularly, pairing your foods correctly, focusing on self-care & movement tends to help our bodies increase their sensitivity to insulin and regulates our blood sugar levels, all resulting in a lower A1c!
You will see here how even with prediabetes we are not focused on food restriction & lists of food rules. In fact, we are mainly focused on ADDING more components to your snacks & meals to help you meet your health goals!
Gentle Nutrition Example: IBS
When one is diagnosed with IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) they tend to hear one specific dreaded word.
FODMAP stands for fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols. These are short chain carbohydrates that are poorly absorbed in the small intestine and are prone to absorb water and ferment in the colon.
When recommended the FODMAP diet you are asked to avoid high FODMAP foods and eat a low FODMAP diet.
This can look like a list of…
DO eat lettuce, carrots & cucumbers.
DON’T eat garlic, beans & onions.
When it comes to gentle nutrition for those with IBS instead of leaning into the DON’T eat foods, we help our clients lean into the DO eats!
Potatoes, tortilla chips, popcorn, oils, butter, peanuts are generally all well accepted by the colon for those with IBS!
We also help our clients tune into their bodies and their negative or positive reactions to different foods. Often keeping a food journaling and noting good or bad bowel reactions can be incredibly helpful!
We also tend to focus on WHEN to eat foods that give you negative bowel reactions. If diary is one of those foods that tends to end in an explosion for you, maybe choose to enjoy your high dairy alfredo recipe on a Friday night when you aren’t concerned about your bowel’s reactions at the office the next day.
It’s not that you CAN’T have it! Possibly having it will simply require a little extra planning for you!
Even with IBS our focus is not on restricted foods, but rather helping you tune in, understand & trust your body and of course learn what to expect from your IBS.
Gentle Nutrition Example: Energy & Sleep
I have personally been the victim of energy & sleep diet plans. The different plans I was given by health professionals were so unbelievably unrealistic!
Don’t eat high glycemic index foods
Don’t eat sugar
Don’t eat starchy vegetables
Don’t drink caffeine
Don’t consume dairy
Don’t eat gluten
At one point I remember listing off my list of “bad” foods to my mom and her exclaiming, “ok, so, what foods are left??”
It’s important to remember that issues with energy or quality of sleep can be symptoms of SO MANY different things.
For an example in my situation, my issues with energy & sleep ended up being a sign that I had a genetic weakness that needed to be helped along with synthetic medication!
No matter how many foods I restricted or how many food rules I followed, it did not change my situation.
What it did do, was create disordered eating and shame that I couldn’t help my sleep issues or energy levels with diet & exercise like other people could.
Inside of gentle nutrition instead of asking these clients to remove caffeine (like coffee or tea) from their diet we tend to focus on “sleep hygiene” as in, when to stop drinking caffeine for optimal sleep!
Establishing a calming and restful sleep routine can also be helpful. Our bodies are creatures of habit and love knowing that prior to bed, they can always expect a bath, then brushing teeth, then a few minutes of reading and a nighttime snack.
Learning to eat more regularly for blood sugar regulation can also be very helpful for clients with energy & sleep issues! Often our blood sugar tends to plumet in the middle of the night which can cause us to struggle with sleeping through the night.
Eating more regularly during the day and having a bedtime snack that consists of fat, fibre & protein can make a huge different!
Here again, we do not focus on restricting the client’s diet until all they can eat is blanched spinach. We focus on ADDING to the client’s life to help in any way we can!
Diving into Gentle Nutrition
Trust me on this – you do NOT need to push yourself into a season of gentle nutrition. When you are ready, you WILL know!
Suddenly you will find yourself craving more vegetables…
Suddenly you will find yourself curious about focusing on your health ailments in a balanced way that still honours your mental health…
Suddenly you will notice that you are willing to play around with when you do & do not eat in order to feel your best!
It WILL happen! Your body is BRILLIANT!!
Have patience, and trust that the same body that screamed for milk when she was an infant WILL once again tell you that she’s ready to start focusing on gentle nutrition.
You got this!
I always recommend that if you want to lean into gentle nutrition that you hire someone who is a licensed nutrition professional, certified in intuitive eating and considers themselves HAES aligned. (Health-at-Every-Size)
If you are craving support in your intuitive eating journey and are curious about the products & services I offer, click here!
And here is the directory for Certified Intuitive Eating Counsellors, you can find so many incredible practitioners in there!
Until next time, Happy Healing!
Certified in Intuitive Eating
Licensed Health & Nutrition Counsellor