When you read, hear or think about balance what’s the first thing you think of?
A plate of veggies, starch, protein all proportionally controlled like this?
Nutritional frameworks are great for structure and support around meal times, but I nourish my body in a more intuitive way. Minus the proportion control, macro counting, and protein to carbs ratio.
Balance with a holistic perspective
This perspective of balance is holistic in nature and ensures that your way of life is in line with your body's cues and how you actively respond.
I refer to Gentle Nutrition that applies the concepts of nutrition without rigidity, food rules, obsessiveness, moral judgment or emotional attachment.
I, like many women (and men!) by the age of 17 started a conventional diet then later, lifestyle change (real-foodist, sugar-quitter, paleo-eque eater) with the intention to be thinner, leaner and better (not that I actually ever have admitted that).
Cutting sugar reset my ability to listen to my body by eating whole foods. But with quitting sugar, came a level of restriction. My thinking turned to “I can have this,” but "I can’t have that” and "does this thing have sugar in it?”
The forbidden fruit effect
It's well documented in human psychology, that when we’re told we can’t have something, we either want it even more or we feel guilty if we eat the “forbidden fruit” (this was my experience).
If I accidentally ate something with sugar in it I would tell myself "I needed to eat cleaner" or I would have less treats that week to compensate.
Limiting the amount or type of foods you are allowed to eat turns on the part of the brain that makes you want food more.
Our subconscious is a smart, adaptable mechanism, hard wired to thrive (at the least, survive). Our cognitive reasons for wanting to tone up, lose weight (triggered by societal pressures and cultural norms) isn’t enough to override your body's innate wisdom to thrive at it's natural set point weight (just like your height, we have a genetic predisposition to a natural weight range).
Permission to eat without the food labels
When we take nutrition knowledge to the extreme and make every-single-food-choice a judgment of “good” and “bad” foods, over time, the bad experiences stack up. We internalize “bad” food experiences and associate it with “I’m a failure”.
This self-blame and shame tend to trigger a “try harder” mentality and so the diet or weight cycling saga continues. Almost anyone who has ever dieted can relate to this:
The paradigm shift we need; gentle nutrition
Gentle Nutrition is having “permission” to eat in a way that your body likes. The ability to trust that your head and stomach are in harmony.
That you actually have a choice in what you eat and your decision is based on how it makes you feel, and mostly you want to feel good. Right?!
It’s natural and very normal to be able to choose nourishing foods without having to use willpower or restriction.
Sometimes we make choices based on environmental, societal and traditional influences, like Mum’s special sticky date or grandma's pavlova.
Which is why I believe it’s not always about nutrition. Just as important is our eating mentality.
Gentle, balanced nutrition looks like:
1. Allowing yourself to make food decisions that bridge human connection.
What comes to mind is eating a soupy centered, bright red tomato pizza in Rome with best friends 2 years ago.
We still talk about these moments standing around Campo de' Fiori's busy cobble stone road taking in the the beautiful markets bustle while eating almost a whole pizza each.
2. Balance also means suddenly realising that it’s been days since you last ate fresh vegetables and planning your next meals with salads, soups and roast veggies. Your body naturally recalibrate by sending you messages about what it needs. You just need to take the time to listen and choose to respond.
3. Balance means that you occasionally choose to eat what’s convenient because life moves at such an incredible pace. When we make every food decision out of a sense of what’s convenient, we're likely not feel as great as if we were able to eat foods that was prepared mindfully.
Gentle, balanced nutrition is...
...allowing each one of these reasons to have their time and place. It’s deciding what to eat based on what sounds good, satisfying, nutritious, convenient, or within your means, and letting a different one or combo of those reasons win out depending on how you feel in that moment. This is a practice of becoming attuned to our physical, psychological, emotional and environmental body. A whole body perspective.
Imbalanced nutrition is...
...letting any one reason for eating (nutritional knowledge, convenience, what sounds good) win out every time. Being led by food rules is where we get out of balance.
Colouring outside the lines
By occasionally colouring outside the lines we can sustain long term habits and behaviours. It’s impossible to walk the tightrope and never fall off, what about spontaneity, joy and meaningful connection? We’re missing the point when all we focus on is food groups, calorie counting, and proportion control.
Without a good relationship with food our ability to nourish as a form of self care is compromised.
The point is to take care of your emotional, psychological and physical health using the information gathered from your internal and external influencers (nutritional knowledge, skills, resources and innate body cues). This is what true, holistic health means.
Gentle Nutrition is one of 10 principle of Intuitive Eating that we discuss in in my 1:1 coaching programs. We’ll talk about gentle nutrition and balance not in the diet culture sense, but in a holistic, self-aware, liberating sense.