How to Embrace Gentle Nutrition in Your Practice

Hey RDs! Are you learning more about gentle nutrition and Intuitive Eating lately and wanting to learn more? In this article, we share how to incorporate gentle nutrition into your private practice, with confidence.

When was the last time someone “caught” you eating french fries or cookies and asked –  with shock – “you’re a dietitian and you actually eat that?” 

The rigid assumption that eating healthy and nourishing your body never allows for fun foods, or that you cannot trust your own body around fun foods, is the opposite of gentle nutrition.

woman taking notes on pad of paper in office

What exactly is gentle nutrition?

Let’s bust a few myths about what gentle nutrition is NOT:

  • Gentle nutrition is not free for all permission to eat nothing but fun foods at all meals
  • Gentle nutrition does not ignore needed nutritional interventions, such as food allergies
  • Gentle nutrition does not exclude the partnership of a registered dietitian

How is gentle nutrition different from traditional approaches?

Traditional nutrition approaches can be based on diet culture: the idea that being thin equals being healthy, different foods are either “good” or “bad” and that tracking servings, calories or points is the path forward to health, status and happiness. 

More prevalent with nutrition influencers – not credible registered dietitians – is the pushing of “lose 15 pounds quickly”, “buy these shakes” or vilifying a food or nutrient group. These ideas lack scientific evidence, are short term, and can erode anyone’s trust in their own body and the belief of their own worth. 

Your weight is not your worth; gentle nutrition helps us to find peace with our bodies and our meals. Gentle nutrition invites you to put down the food police badge, ditch the scale, and for you and your clients to come to the kitchen with more curiosity. 

Gentle nutrition is more easily said than done, which is why it is usually explored last in the 10 principles of Intuitive Eating. 

overhead view of a dietitian and client having a nutrition meeting

How to practice gentle nutrition with your clients

It is truly amazing how much the average person thinks of nutrition in black and white terms, all or nothing, “good” or “bad”. Intuitive Eating might feel like a breath of fresh air to you and to your clients.

Encourage your clients to think big picture.

Intuitive eating can be easily misunderstood. When RD’s offer “all foods fit” folks can misinterpret that messaging as “eat all of the junk food that you want”. That is far from accurate!

The big picture with gentle nutrition is to observe how foods make your body feel, both in terms of your mental energy and focus, your comfort, and your spiritual interest. This helps us to take a long view of nourishment instead of being hyper-focused on each individual meal, portion or calorie.

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Explore Food-Body Choice Congruence

Gentle nutrition is the opportunity to continue to explore how foods make your body feel. It is deceptively simple and, like any new skill, takes practice. 

There is room for both the nourishing feeling after eating a hearty salad and your body feeling energized as well as the rich enjoyment of a piece of your favorite cake and feeling emotionally satisfied. 

Empowering your client to truly tune into her body’s signals fosters peace and satisfaction.  This means that your taste buds get a say in meal choices, but so too does your stomach, your energy level, and so on.

Bid bon voyage to food morality

How often do you hear folks asking about foods being “good” or “bad”? Therefore, if we eat bad foods, we are bad, too. It is so ingrained in the way we talk about our food choices and can lean into our own morality and value, based on the choices we make. 

Gentle nutrition guides us to see food as neutral. There is room for fun food and using food for comfort, celebration and connection to our heritage. We can start food exploration with our children and continue the journey into adulthood. 

There are many ways to prioritize the foods that we’re eating and we can choose to prioritize what we wish, from local and organic, to fast and easy to simply available. We don’t need to use foods to feel superior to others.

a woman’s hand holding an ice-cream cone on a pink background

Embrace variety

Our gut health thrives when we enjoy a wide variety of foods. Rather than vilifying food groups, you can guide your clients in seeking (and enjoying) various fruits, vegetables, new recipes and styles of cooking. This nourishes our physical and emotional health.

Gentle nutrition is also an opportunity to better incorporate more cultural foods. When so many nutrition food models are centered around European styles of eating, those clients who have African, Asian or Latin food traditions may feel excluded or shamed

Encourage your clients to give themselves grace.

Disconnecting food from morality is tricky. Really tricky. But enjoying foods neutrally is a much lighter load to carry.

How do those chicken tenders taste with a side of shame? Not all that satisfying, I’ll bet. 

Like any new skill, gentle nutrition begins to feel more natural with practice. It takes purposeful unlearning of diet culture to be able to embrace the freedom of gentle nutrition. 

Gentle nutrition places as much value on mental health as it does on physical health. There are nights that cooking dinner sounds great –  enjoy – and there are nights when you’re exhausted and will be so glad that you have the opportunity to order take out or make a box of mac and cheese. Both can fit – as a registered dietitian, helping our clients to remove the shame from food choices is a powerful gift we can offer our clients. 

One meal or one season of your life will not make or break your physical health, but carrying the load of diet culture – food being rigid, complicated or inflexible – is a heavy burden.

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Gentle Nutrition Resources to Help Your Clients

Ready to learn more? Whether you’re just getting started with your private practice or looking to pivot in who you help, we have resources to help you, today. Our Intuitive Eating Collection includes webinars to reach your ideal clients and referral partners, handouts to have effective meetings with your clients and trainings to further your own development with Intuitive Eating. 

Gentle Nutrition Empowers Dietitians

Gentle nutrition offers us nourishment – the nutrition that we’re traditionally trained in – but it also offers comfort, celebration and connections to our culture, if we let it.

Registered Dietitians are people, too. We have our own inherent biases, phobias, and racism. Doing our own work to practice weight inclusivity and release our own weight bias benefits our clients. Gentle nutrition empowers us to have more curiosity than judgment for a more peaceful relationship with our body and with our meals. 

What important work to support and love ourselves and to empower our clients, too.

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