Hi everyone! It’s Connie, one of the interns, here again back after 3 weeks away from my normal kitchen to spend a week directing a camp filled with 200 kids followed by 2 weeks in the beautiful country of Croatia. By the time I got home my body was physically and mentally craving some gentle nutrition – things like those colorful leafy greens that we couldn’t find anywhere in Croatia and my beloved whole grain pancake mix. The cool thing about travel is that it exposes our body to different foods so that when we come home we sure are ready to get back to our version of normal. But what about when you have been living your normal day to day life and gentle nutrition doesn’t sounds appealing?
Even though intuitive eating and the Health At Every Size paradigm do encourage listening to your body’s internal cues and honoring your cravings, sometimes we have to think beyond what will solely taste good right now and ask the question, “What tastes good, but will also make me feel my best?” Before I continue, I do want to stress the importance of moving through the other principals of intuitive eating first before we even think about gentle nutrition. Because if you’re still holding onto, for example, food rules around donuts and all you are craving are donuts, but you haven’t moved through the principals of IE and you read the above paragraph your decision might look like this…
“I reallly want a donut for breakfast right now… but that’s filled with sugar and carbs… ugh … maybe I should just eat something more nutrient dense and forego the donut altogether. The donut isn’t good for me. ”
Here’s what your decision might look like with gentle nutrition in mind after coming to a neutral place with all foods and giving yourself full permission around all foods…
“I reallly want a donut for breakfast right now, ok that donut has some carbs, sugar, and fat from the oil it was fried in.. cool. But that might only hold me over for an hour or two and I might not feel my best eating just the donut… so maybe I can bring along a banana and a hard boiled egg with me to either eat with my donut or have as a snack later so that my body has some good fiber and protein to hold me a bit longer and keep my blood sugar stable. That way I have my desired food, but also keep in mind some gentle nutrition which provides me with some staying power and extra vitamins and minerals.”
Gentle nutrition is made to compliment the food we truly desire not override our whole decision. When we begin to stress so much about “health” and “healthy eating” the stress itself can make those once “healthy” decisions no longer healthy – physically or psychologically. A restrictive mindset like telling yourself you can’t have the donut altogether not only heightens our desire for that donut, but it also heightens our reward response when eating that donut, setting us up for overeating or having a chaotic experience the next time we are around donuts.
Most recently I’ve been having a hard time with lunch. It’s funny, when I’m on campus all day taking class or teaching class I have no problem thinking ahead and prepping something for myself. When I’m at home working or I choose to write some of my thesis at a coffee shop it’s like my lunch brain falls out of my actual brain and I lose all desire to think about what I want to eat and what foods would provide my body with good nutrition as well.
Here’s some things that have helped me incorporate some gentle nutrition when I just don’t have the desire to put mental energy towards it.
- Write down what things sounds satisfying to you during your grocery shopping trip and have them in the house so it’s easy to grab. Or when you are sitting at that coffee shop, think about what really sounds good to you. Can you shop for those foods when you go to the store so your are more prepared next time?
- Loosely plan out a protein, carb, fat, and fun food for each meal. That gives me fullness and satisfaction.
- Switch it up! Variety is the spice of life and sometimes out tastebuds just need a change up to feel like planning lunches again!
For me, what sounds the best lately are Trader Joes pre-packaged salads that I can bulk up with extra greens and add some fun sides like carrots and hummus or pita chips/bread and cheese or hummus + some cookies or chocolate chips. These salads are more expensive than if I just bought some ingredients in bulk and spent some time making them but that sounds so blah to me. I’d rather pay a few extra bucks to make sure I’m nourished and I enjoy my meal versus nibbling on random stuff that leaves me unsatisfied and unnourished. I completely realize that being able to buy pre-packaged salads is a privilege and intuitive eating will look different based on each person’s time, overall health and financial resources (among other factors)
My future self thanks me when my belly starts to rumble at the coffee shop. I have something nourishing and satisfying ready to go instead of running across the street to the local pizza joint out of desperation and ordering a slice even though I might not have wanted pizza to begin with.
So I hope some loose prep and thinking of how you want to feel both psychotically and physically is helpful when you think about choosing foods with gentle nutrition in mind. I can’t emphasize enough though, if you’re in eating disorder recovery, are just beginning your IE journey or find yourself stuck in diet mentality…implementing gentle nutrition won’t be appropriate yet. But you are right where you need to be, it’s okay to be where you are, and you are moving through your own journey at the pace you need to <3