Wow, here we are with the last principle of Intuitive Eating: Honor Your Health with Gentle Nutrition. This principle is saved for last, not because it is less important, but because you are only truly ready to learn information about nutrition and health after you’ve rejected the diet mentality and made peace with food. Any lingering diet mentality thoughts can cause you to take nutrition advice and turn it into another diet or practice unhealthy food habits. Having worked through principles 1 through 9, we’re ready to tackle principle 10.
Gentle nutrition means making food choices that honor your health and taste buds, while making you feel well at the same time. This is not another set of rigid rules that often come with diets; instead, gentle nutrition is flexible! Remember, as intuitive eaters we are not striving for perfection, but rather progress. You don’t have to eat perfectly to be healthy. You won't gain weight or develop a disease from one meal, one snack, or one day of eating. Instead, the eating patterns you consistently follow over a long period of time contribute to your health. And if you’re eating intuitively, you’re promoting good health: several studies have shown that intuitive eating is associated with improved nutrient intake, greater variety in the diet, reduced risk of developing an eating disorder, and lower body mass. In contrast, restriction of food intake is associated with weight gain.
We hear the term “healthy eating” all the time, but what exactly does it mean? Healthy eating can be defined in many ways. According to Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Anti-Diet Approach, healthy eating means having a healthy balance of foods and a healthy relationship with food. Having a healthy relationship with food means your worth and value as a person are not determined by your food choices. Many people forget about this piece, but it’s an important component of Intuitive Eating.
We’ve probably all heard the words “variety,” “moderation,” and “balance” to describe healthy diets. Let’s further explore what each of these mean as an intuitive eater:
Eat a variety of foods -- According to a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, people who eat a variety of foods from the different food groups (starches/grains, proteins, fats, dairy, fruits, and vegetables) have a lesser chance of dying, while people who cut out food groups from their diet have a greater risk of death. We often eat the same foods day after day; however, trying new foods can help us add variety to our diets. You never know if you like something until you try it!
Moderation -- This does not mean elimination. Moderation means eating various amounts of food without going to extremes of eating too little or too much. Removing food groups from your diet, rather than eating them in moderation, can make it harder for your body to get an adequate amount of nutrients and can eventually lead to nutrient deficiencies.
Balance -- Balance is attained over a long period of time and does not have to be achieved at every meal or even every day. Like we said before, it's all about what you eat most of the time. Furthermore, our bodies are amazing and adaptable to changes. For example, if you ingest too much vitamin C, your body will excrete what it doesn’t need. Or if you eat too little, your body will slow its need for calories.
It’s important to note that after you have made peace with food, there will be times when you want a less nutritious meal or snack, and that is totally normal! These foods are called “play foods” by the Intuitive Eating authors, not “junk food” as most of us are used to calling them. Eating to satisfy your taste buds is part of being an intuitive eater, and play foods can certainly be part of a balanced diet. You might still be thinking, how can eating play foods be healthy? This is where multiple principles of Intuitive Eating come together. If you were to eat cake and candy all day, you would probably feel sick by nighttime. However, if you are in tune with your body, you would stop eating sweets prior to experiencing those uncomfortable symptoms, because your body would signal fullness and satisfaction before reaching that point. And you’d feel content stopping, knowing that you can eat cake or candy again the next time you’re craving it.
The bottom line is, if you listen to your body, you will naturally want healthy, nutrient-dense foods to make you feel good, and will also desire play foods at times to satisfy your palate. Listening to your body not only means being in tune with your hunger and fullness cues, but also a couple of other important things. Ask yourself these questions to assess why you are eating a certain food or meal:
Am I eating this because I like the taste, or am I being a diet victim and eating it because it’s a healthy food?
How does eating this food or meal make my body feel? Do I like feeling this way?
How do I feel when eating this way for a long period of time? Do I like it? Would I want to feel this way again?
Do I feel a difference in my energy level? Am I more alert?
If healthy eating is a pleasurable experience and makes you feel good, you are more likely to continue eating this way and to honor your health with your food choices. Remember that YOU are the expert of your body. You know your body better than anyone else. Focus inward on your feelings, thoughts, and body signals, rather than being guided by external factors such as family and friends. This can make a big difference on how you choose what to eat. Let your body guide you! You got this!
Here at Restore Family Therapy, we have dietitians and therapists who specialize in Intuitive Eating and eating disorders, and can support you on your Intuitive Eating journey. If you are interested in learning more about the different treatment options we provide, please reach out for a free consultation at restoreft.com.