Gentle Nutrition - No Good or Bad

blog gentle nutrition Aug 02, 2023

What is Gentle Nutrition?

If you have had a chance to listen to Episode #30 of my podcast, Keto and Low Carb Success, I explore “Intuitive Eating'' developed by registered dietitians Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch. Gentle Nutrition is the 10th principle of this eating style.  Intuitive eating emphasizes that you are the ONLY expert of your body because only you can feel your body signals, such as hunger and stress. Your intuitive process is to eat when you’re hungry and stop when you’re full. To follow the path of intuitive eating, these two dieticians give you 10 steps, gentle nutrition being the top step.

In teaching about Gentle Nutrition, they state that “Taste is important, but health is still honored, without guilt.” There is no food labeled “good” or “bad”. However, many of us cannot get out of this dichotomous label and avoid certain “bad” foods because we think a single bite of those “bad” foods will immediately make us unhealthy. Guilt comes from how we feel when we have taken a bite of that “bad” food.

Here is your roadmap to learn more about Gentle Nutrition

How do we break away from seeing foods as good or bad?

What else are we honoring besides our hunger when we choose gentle nutrition?

In order to practice gentle nutrition, you need the desire, knowledge and awareness of the foods to do so.

And what about plans that do not teach anything about nutrition?

Start by listening to your body.

Look at health, not weight.

Actionable Coaching Advice

How do we break away from seeing foods as good or bad?

It may be especially difficult to let go of the guilt and shame if you feel tied in by Keto or Low Carb

In several episodes, and in my new course, I encourage you to think not in terms of good or bad, but in terms of whether the food will get you closer to your goal or further away from it. And, I might add, the choice is yours. Let’s move away from guilt or shame attached to a food or the behavior of eating that food. Instead, let’s view it as making a choice about moving towards our goal or moving away from it.

We might regret eating in a way that moves us away from our goals, but it is not a moral issue. WE are not good or bad for whatever choice we have made. Gentle nutrition means that you choose foods that honor your hunger, but also gives you complete satisfaction from having eaten them. When this is the case, we are less likely to eat to excess and less likely to binge eat, for those of us who do.

With Keto, if you have made the decision to stay in ketosis and eating off plan knocks you out, then you have simply made a wrong turn in your journey. Keep this visual in mind: If you came out of the house and found one of your tires flat, would you go slash the other three? Probably not! So take a look at that one flat tire in terms of gentle nutrition. Sometimes gentle nutrition includes an emotional component – such as enjoying a piece of your grandmother’s pie that you do not get often. Don’t eat it because of a food pusher pushing it on you or devour it during a binge where you wake up from a trance not even recognizing you ate it. Sit with it on a plate, with a fork and napkin, and savor every single bite of it. It’s not a good food or a bad food. You are not good or bad for having eaten it. It’s just one flat tire. Acknowledge it and move on. That’s an example of gentle nutrition.

What else are we honoring besides our hunger when we choose gentle nutrition?

Our gentle nutrition food choices honor our cravings and what our taste buds love, while paying attention to what our body needs in the moment. You will be honoring both your physical health, and ultimately, as with the example of your grandmother’s pie, your mental health.

And let’s take a look at mental health for a moment.

Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act, and helps determine how we make choices.

Think about the last diet you were on. Did you feel at ease with your emotional, psychological and social well-being, while you turned down parties because you were afraid to eat what was being served, or secretly binged when you got home either because you denied yourself food all night or, on the other hand, were so angry and ashamed that you ate everything? Did you spend countless Mondays starting again, but not making it through Tuesday because this piece of the puzzle – your mental health and emotional wellbeing – was missing?

This whole experience is what causes diet trauma, and which is what makes it more and more difficult to follow a diet or even an eating style once we start one. When we say we are going to do this or that, right away either we rebel, or we do give the rules a try and revert right back to old eating habits.

There are other diets and ways of eating, intuitive eating among them, that profess moderation or sticking to a plan – any plan, eating anything – but the problem is, we find ourselves with enough rope to hang ourselves.

Our intentions are grand. The eating style or plan may be grand. But past diet trauma turns one cookie into a sleeve, one slice of bread into a loaf, or one muffin at breakfast into an entire day of free-for-all eating. Of course, none of the plans set out to have you hurt yourself like this. Even ones that stress learning your hunger and satiety cues fall short, because, after all you DID stop at the 10th cookie because you could feel yourself getting full.

And what about plans that do not teach anything about nutrition?

You are left thinking that a bagel for breakfast is as good as a plate of bacon and eggs if they are the same number of calories, or Points, or hit the same spot on your hunger scale. You are left with no nutritional knowledge, gentle or otherwise. This is not to say that bagels are bad and eggs are good – not at all. But you will want to make choices on the goals you have set for yourself. If you are doing Keto, no you don’t want a regular bagel as part of your nutrition. Keto bagels (my own recipe here) are fine, but you still want to be watchful of carbohydrates.

And, regardless of whether you are following Keto or Low Carb, the nutritional impact of a regular bagel does not deliver nutrients that you need to fuel your body for the day.

To be successful with gentle nutrition, and benefit from everything it offers, you must take your cravings and food desires and meld them with your nutritional knowledge and needs, and also what makes your body feel best. Example: You want ice cream. You know that you want to limit it because of the sugar content. Desire and nutritional knowledge. Check and check. BUT, you ignore the fact that when you eat ice cream you do not feel well, even though you have been tested and do not have a dairy sensitivity. You need all three elements: desire-knowledge-awareness.

You also must consider your situation. Did you just have a baby and need to eat and drink more to produce milk? Did you just put in a marathon week at work, and in addition to rest, of course, you need to adjust your food because you feel depleted? Did you actually run a marathon, and so need more fluids and more protein and fat so that your recovery will speed up? Are you feeling unwell and honestly, only bland carbohydrate-rich foods will settle your stomach? This all falls under awareness, but at a more global level than just acknowledging that ice cream makes you feel sick (and by the way it could be the sugar, fat or eggs, depending on the flavor – and nothing to do with the dairy!).

In order to practice gentle nutrition, you need the desire, knowledge and awareness of the foods to do so.

You must also heal diet culture trauma and let go of messages that say foods are either good or bad, and that YOU are either good or bad depending on what you eat and how much you eat. You must also learn the difference between a food rule and a food preference.

A food rule would be: Always eat whole wheat bread and brown rice. A food preference would be, I happen to like whole wheat bread, but I prefer white rice.  A food rule would be: Eat a lot of fat (if you are doing Keto). A food preference would be, I feel better eating less fat, so I will do that, but I will be generous when I dress my salad with olive oil. A food rule would be, Eat three fruits a day. A food preference would be, I am trying to get out of the pre-diabetes zone so I will limit myself to just one fruit a day. You can see that preference means making choices.

Start by listening to your body.

Start OBSERVING. Think about how eating a particular food makes your body feel. Ask yourself if you have any discomfort. Ask yourself, after you have eaten, if you are hungry, full or satisfied. And ask yourself if this food is what you really, really, REALLY want. Sometimes it’s a brownie. Sometimes it’s roast chicken. Sometimes it’s chips. Sometimes it a bowl of soup. Sometimes at 8AM you want ice cream for dessert at dinner. But dinner is finished, and you no longer want it. Don’t have it. Really listen.

Look to add foods to your eating plan, not take away and restrict. The exception to this would be if you are following an eating plan for medical reasons, let’s say Keto because you want to get your type 2 diabetes under control. No, you won’t be having bread, potatoes and lots of fruit. But turn it on its head – what CAN you add? Pick one or two new foods or recipes to try each week. Be creative with your cooking and grocery shopping. Revisit the various foods of your eating plan. I bet there are more foods you can have than you cannot have. Experiment.

Look at health, not weight.

In several podcast episodes, in my book, and in my course, I have talked about Gary Taubes’s passage in his book “Why We Get Fat and What To Do About It” that absolutely rocked my world and is why I am with you here today. He said: “So long as we believe that people get fat because they overeat, because they take in more calories than they expend, we’re putting the ultimate blame on a mental state, a weakness of character, and we’re leaving human biology out of the equation entirely…Do these authors wish to range obesity as a ‘behavior problem’ among psychiatric instead of metabolic diseases?” The point is (and research backs this up) is that we must heal ourselves before we can lose weight, not lose weight to heal ourselves.

There is a term: TOFI – This means “Thin Outside Fat Inside.” All those 100 calorie snack bags can help with weight loss, but they do nothing for your health. Reflect on this a moment.

I am in no way saying that weight loss won’t help insulin levels, lipid levels and such. But what I am saying is that we must look at our health to figure out gentle nutrition. Diet shakes and bars, calorie restriction, fat-free dairy, sugar-free cookies and cakes – yes, they will reduce calorie levels but do nothing for our health. We must use gentle nutrition and nutritional wisdom to make choices about what to eat. Look at your body through the lens of health and not weight. Ask yourself if what you are choosing will move you towards health. If it will, then it will also move you towards weight loss.

Tribole and Resch’s guidelines say:

  1. Eat a variety of foods
  2. Eat moderate amounts of food
  3. Eat a balance of foods over time
  4. Consider the taste of food
  5. Consider the quality of food


This week I would like you to try some things toward gentle nutrition:

  1. Pick one food and go for the healthier version. If you are Low Carb and are eating bread and grains, try to find a bakery that makes bread – there will be far fewer, if any, chemicals in it than you would find with bread from a supermarket shelf. Or, try out one of the health breads that you will find in the freezer section of your store. I use Ezekiel Sprouted Grains bread. It is good toasted or even made into French toast – when is the last time you had French toast? Yes, the taste takes a bit of getting used to but now I wouldn’t use anything else except bread, hot and straight from the bakery.
  2. If you are baking – Keto or Low Carb – add some protein powder to your items or try frittata muffins for easy on-the-go snacks or meals.
  3. Try a snack that you don’t usually have – like hommos and fresh cut vegetables, or a few cubes of salami and cheese.
  4. Make your own flavored yogurt using fresh fruit and berries with a plain Greek yogurt. If you are not used to that you might have to add a little sweetener but eventually you will like just the fruit and yogurt. In my course I talk about the use of artificial sweeteners as a bridge not a crutch. This is one of those instances.
  5. Add at least one new vegetable to your dinner. Better yet, start adding vegetables to your breakfast. Throw a handful of baby spinach into your scrambled eggs or cut up some cucumbers or take a few cherry tomatoes to have on the side of whatever you are eating. Of course, this is not the best advice if you are eating oatmeal – but if you are, add fresh apples or berries to your cereal and make sure you add veggies at lunch.
  6. Even if you do not meal plan – whether daily or weekly – add some structure to what you are having. It helps to jot things down just to build an awareness of whether you are eating a well-rounded day. Do you need more protein? More vegetables? Some real fat, like a home-made olive oil dressing instead of the processed dressings in a bottle?
  7. If you can’t look at your entire day, at least look meal by meal. Is it well rounded with a good protein, fat and vegetables? Do you LIKE what you have planned? Do you enjoy every bite when you are eating it?
  8. Keep a water bottle handy and stay hydrated. If you don’t like plain water, you can infuse it with berries or muddle them and then pour plain seltzer water on them. Muddle is when you crush the fruit – they sell muddlers – I have one!
  9. Play with your portion sizes. Take half or three-quarters of what you usually take and see if that satisfies you. I have also talked about the speed bump method where you take what you normally do, but divide it in half – either putting it on a separate plate, or making a division on the plate you are eating from. Stop at that half-way point and assess. Another way is to take what you usually have but leave two or three bites behind and just sit with that for a few moments. Eventually just serve yourself less when you begin to find the sweet spot with the amount that fills you but does not stuff you.
  10. Make sure everything you eat this week is something you ENJOY. Don’t care for cottage cheese? Stop eating it! Don’t like lettuce? Stop eating it! My husband makes a fantastic chopped salad with tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, mint, olive oil and a nice balsamic vinegar. Not a piece of lettuce in sight. You do love ice cream? Buy premium and put a few spoons in a fancy dish. I bought a beautiful dish (actually it is a champagne glass) and I use it just for this and nothing else. That little bit of ice cream with a beautiful visual is enough to satisfy my desire for ice cream. Even top it with a teaspoon of chopped nuts if that’s your thing.

You get the point here. If you do any version of these suggestions, you will be doing gentle nutrition. You will be eating what is good and healthy for your body, while also satisfying your need to eat things that you enjoy.

The more you eat this way, the more you will be eating along the lines of the spirit of your eating plan, rather than the rules of a diet. You will be getting the nutrition that your body needs, while also getting the satisfaction that your mind needs. 


Thank you for taking the time to read this blog, Gentle Nutrition, and I hope it will help you navigate your journey. Don't forget to subscribe to the mailing list (below) so that you don't miss the next one!

My course, Keto and Low Carb Success is built on nutritional wisdom and the most important elements of finding your normal through help with urges, feeling your best, setting smart goals, learning about your next best decisions, etc. There are so many more topics like these in this course. Please check the link below. I have very special gifts and pricing for the summer of 2023.

Now, let me remind you. If you’ve ever got a question you’d like to ask me or share a topic idea that you would like me to cover in a future blog, don’t be a stranger! I always look forward to hearing from readers like you. You are welcome to email me directly… [email protected].

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Book Conquer Cravings with Keto 

Course Keto and Low Carb Success

Tips for Keeping a Food Journal - Part 1

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