Good nutrition is added at the end of the Intuitive Eating journey but it is typically one of the first questions a client will ask me about. They want reassurance that this whole Intuitive Eating process won’t turn them into crazy, life long, out of control, junk food eaters. If good nutrition is so important they ask – why is it being added so late in the process?
That is because when we have had years of struggling with food and dieting and our bodies we have lost touch with eating in a way that truly supports both physical and mental health. We need to re-learn eating in a way that allow us to have a kinder relationship with food and our bodies before we add back “health”.
Choosing to eat healthful foods is one tool towards overall healthful living.
But tools when they aren’t used correctly can cause injury.
Just like I wouldn’t give a child a hammer, I wouldn’t give a person new to the Intuitive Eating journey gentle nutrition. That is because they don’t have perspective.
Have you ever see those pictures where you look at it and it can be seen two ways. Perhaps you see a young lady but you can also look at it and see an old lady. Those pictures are so fascinating to me and very cool. It can be viewed from different perspectives. It is like healthy eating. It can be a tool of restriction and perfection and judgment or a tool or vitality, health, and well-being. It depends on your perspective. It depends on how you use your “tools”.
Choosing to eat vegetables because they are fresh and delicious and you like the taste is gentle nutrition. Making yourself eat vegetables to lower your daily calories is not.
Eating when you are hungry is respecting your body’s internal signals and a part of gentle nutrition. Not eating when you are hungry is not.
Eating a piece of cake and enjoying it – on purpose – is part of gentle nutrition. Eating a piece of cake and making yourself feel like a “lousy human being” is not.
You are ready for gentle nutrition when you can be gentle with yourself about nutrition.
You aren’t ready to move into gentle nutrition if you find yourself using nutrition to belittle yourself in any way.
I would want a client to have experience with all of the other steps of Intuitive Eating before I would start with gentle nutrition. That is because when you work on all the other steps you find a new perspective. You find a more positive, nurturing, and gentle perspective about yourself and your eating.
When I first started Intuitive Eating I dropped “good” nutrition like a hot potato. I had misused good nutrition so that it became a way to restrict, judge, and shame myself. I had a bad relationship with good nutrition. Fortunately, I believed in Intuitive Eating and the process of healing my relationship with food and somehow trusted that things were going to turn out ok. I had to remember that while other people may follow diet restrictions to be healthy; I needed to do the opposite.
Then after a while of allowing for all foods I found that I might actually have a craving for something “healthy”. I remember being quite excited that it just kind of happened and I didn’t plan it out or make myself have it. It was awesome. I thought. Ok – maybe now I am “done”. But it was usually short lived – a day or two at most. I continued to work on eating all foods without judgment. I also worked on less self-judgment as well. I allowed for imperfection. My thinking became less black and white.
Over time I started craving “forbidden” foods less and “healthy” foods more often. I expected this to happen and I was so glad it did. However, it was a bit like a roller coaster. Stress of any kind was often a trigger that would send me “literally” back to the cupboard. Slowly, I became more mindful of my eating patterns and developed ways to handle stress that didn’t include food. I also found that sometimes choosing healthy foods “triggered” me to feeling like I was back to restricting and dieting. When this happened I would allow myself to back up a bit. I didn’t push the process.
This journey of learning to eat all foods without judgment and learning to trust my hunger and fullness and not being judgmental or perfectionist about food or my size took a while; a long while. Sometimes I was quite convinced I might never get to gentle nutrition. But the good news is that it really did happen. It can happen for you too. It just happened in baby steps and required lots of patience. It was very much a process of two steps forward, three steps back. I now have a new and far better relationship with good nutrition.
Do I still struggle – absolutely – I just have lots of positive tools that help me get back quicker to a place of self-compassion and gentle nutrition.
I have a new perspective.
*Intuitive Eating is a program and book written by Evelyn Tribole, MS, RD, and Elyse Resch, MS, RD, FADA, CEDRD. I am a certified Intuitive Eating counselor.
copyright 2018 Sarah Gold, MS, RD, LDN
Sarah Gold is an intuitive eater, dietitian, chocolate lover, and dog lover,