What is compassionate nutrition? Food without obsession

Compassionate nutrition

Honor your health with compassionate nutrition is the tenth and final principle of intuitive eating. As an intuitive eating dietitian, this is my favorite principle. Compassionate nutrition focuses on nourishing your body without restricting food intake or living by food rules. It also encourages enjoyable forms of movement, such as joyful movement.

Compassionate nutrition also promotes connection with yourself. It takes into account what you want to eat and what you need to eat, for overall health. If that’s something you’d like to practice more, read on to learn how applying intuitive nutrition can improve your physical and emotional health.

What is compassionate nutrition in intuitive eating?

Compassionate nutrition comes down to one thing: you don’t have to eat perfectly to be healthy. Nourishing your body shouldn’t be rigid, restrictive or complicated. As the authors of the book Intuitive Eating express :

You won’t suddenly suffer a nutrient deficiency or lose your health because of one snack, one meal, or one day of eating. It’s what you eat consistently over time that matters: progress, not perfection, is what counts.

Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, Intuitive Eating, 4th Edition

The tenth principle of intuitive eating teaches us that there are no strict rules to follow, like counting calories or measuring portion sizes. Instead, it encourages listening to your body and choosing what you really want to eat.

Intuitive eating is a form of nutrition that is flexible but empowers people to choose foods based on what their bodies need. It allows people to really listen to their bodies and make wise decisions without dieting or restricting certain types of foods.

The emphasis of intuitive eating and compassionate nutrition is on the following internal cues:

  • Hunger
  • Fullness
  • Satisfaction
  • Cravings
  • Flavor preferences

It also considers external nutrition and health guidelines, but in a non-dietary way:

Instead of using numbers (like calories or points) to guide food choices, compassionate nutrition allows you to make decisions based on what YOU need nutritionally and physically. You can also decide which of the external nutrition recommendations you would like to integrate for your own health goals.

Common misconceptions

Many people think that compassionate nutrition and intuitive eating equate to uncontrollably eating only “unhealthy” foods (which we intuitive eating registered dietitians call fun foods ). But that is not the case at all. Intuitive eating values ​​nutrition for good health.

We know for a fact that our bodies need proper nutrition to function well. Nutrition is:

  • Eat food and nutrients to sustain life
  • Maintain energy and vitality through sufficient energy (food) intake
  • Allow pleasure through the experience of eating

It is important to keep in mind that nutrition is not the only factor that influences health. The relationship you have with food has a lot of weight.

Let’s take a closer look at how compassionate nutrition merges “healthy” foods and “fun” foods into a balanced eating pattern.

What is a “healthy” diet?

In intuitive eating, “healthy” eating is the same as including a wide variety of foods and having a healthy relationship with food. I say “healthy” in quotes because there is no “one size fits all” when it comes to nutrition. Everyone has different feeding needs.

Compassionate nutrition is the combination of knowing what your body needs nutritionally for health promotion, and knowing what your body needs at any given time.

For example, you know that it is important to include vegetables in your meals, since they will provide you with the vitamins, minerals and fiber that your body needs. But you also know that if you’re craving chocolate ice cream and nothing else will satisfy you, well, there’s nothing wrong with eating that too!

Of course, there is a nutritional difference between eating an apple and a slice of apple pie. Having a healthy relationship with food means that you are not morally superior or inferior based on your food choices.

Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, Intuitive Eating, 4th Edition

Compassionate nutrition also means not feeling guilty about eating what diet culture considers “bad foods.” For example, compassionate nutrition would look like knowing that nothing else will satisfy your sweet tooth right now like a slice of cake, eat it, and go on with your day. You will know that these fun foods can also be part of your eating pattern without collapsing your health!

Nutrition is important. However, unless we learn to consider food for what it is (energy and nutrients that fuel the body) and develop a positive relationship with food, compassionate nutrition will eventually become just another diet. And while good nutrition is essential to preventing and managing disease, it’s only a small piece of the puzzle.

Why is compassionate nutrition the last step in intuitive eating?

As you can already see, compassionate nutrition takes into account your nutritional needs and your relationship with food and eating.

However, unless you’ve already developed a healthy relationship with food, healthy eating can easily become just another diet. This is why compassionate nutrition is the last of the intuitive eating principles.

Unless you learn to make peace with food , abandon the dieting mentality , and allow yourself to eat unconditionally, compassionate nutrition can become just another set of eating rules.

When implementing this step, it is important to have a pretty solid foundation in terms of a good relationship with food and your body. Don’t know where to start?

Examples of what intuitive nutrition is

Therefore, intuitive nutrition can look like choosing nutrient-dense foods as a conscious decision to nourish and care for your health. And it’s also NOT stressing if you eat ice cream for dessert, or just because! It’s about basing food choices on personal needs rather than a diet plan or external rules.

Provides flexible mindset tools for those struggling with food freedom issues, such as:

  • Feeling “out of control” with certain foods
  • Constantly thinking about food or body image
  • Follow the rules about what to eat

In this episode of Food Psych , an amazing anti-diet podcast, is a great explanation of what compassionate nutrition looks like. Heidi Schauster explains what she calls “common sense nutrition,” also known as intuitive nutrition.

Schauster discusses how compassionate nutrition actually comes from a place of self-care. It’s about knowing how to take better care of ourselves with food. Nurturing ourselves versus trying to “get it right” with nutrition.

Nutritional common sense involves everything we’ve been talking about up to this point: honoring your internal eating cues and your overall nutritional needs.

Here are some great tidbits of wisdom from the podcast on how you can incorporate this type of nutrition:

  • Approach your meals with the intention of nourishing yourself physically and emotionally
  • Prepare your meals the way you like them
  • Incorporate and allow pleasure in the eating experience
  • Making sure you have “enough”: enough portions of food, enough satisfaction with food, enough pleasure in eating

How is compassionate nutrition applied?

Here are some additional ways to approach nutrition in a non-diet way:

  • Look at the big picture . As discussed at the beginning, one meal, snack , or food choice will not make or break you. The way you eat and relate to food over time is what matters in terms of your health.
  • Includes a wide variety of foods . Diet culture often encourages us to eliminate foods and food groups based on the “good food/bad food” mentality. But our bodies aren’t meant to eliminate entire food groups. In fact, the more varied our diets are, the more nutrients we will include. But remember to take your personal preferences into account. If you don’t like kale , for example, trying to force yourself to eat it is the opposite of honoring your truth. Choosing the carrots you do like when you want to eat vegetables is practicing compassionate nutrition.
  • Allow yourself flexibility. Intuitive eating is not about eating perfectly. It’s about recognizing that you don’t have to eat a certain way to promote your health. Flexibility means that some days you’ll eat more fun foods, and some days you’ll eat more nutritionally dense foods—and that’s okay. Everything will average out over time and your health will not be affected.
  • Learn to trust yourself with fun foods. Keep in mind that your body never wants too much of anything. If you slow down enough while eating and really learn to listen to what your body is telling you, you’ll discover that there really is no such thing as being “out of control” with food. Especially when it comes to including fun foods without unnecessary guilt.
  • Make intentional decisions. Choose to eat (or not eat) a food from a place of honoring your health and taste preferences. Eventually, this will help you identify which foods feel and taste good to you. You can also show yourself how you can sustainably incorporate those foods into your eating pattern.

When you apply compassionate nutrition instead of following strict food rules, making food decisions based on what your body needs becomes second nature. That way, you learn to eat the way you were born to eat. This form of nutrition focuses on getting rid of the diet mentality and instead getting back to basics.

Ready to practice intuitive nutrition?

As said before, gentle nutrition is the last step to becoming an intuitive eater. It may take a while to get there, and that’s okay! Intuitive eating is about unlearning all the false beliefs that diet culture has taught us. And ultimately, about learning to reconnect with the wisdom of your inner body.

Here I show you how to know if you are ready for this step in intuitive eating:

  • Do I have food rules or strategies like “clean eating” or “portion control”?
  • Do I see food as “good” or “bad”?
  • Do I feel guilty when I eat an “unhealthy” food?
  • Do I allow myself to choose what I really want to eat?
  • Am I choosing foods because I want to eat them or because I think I should eat them?
  • Am I ashamed of my food cravings?
  • Does an intuitive approach to nutrition seem right to me?
  • What are some gentle ways I could nourish myself now if I were practicing this for the first time?


Compassionate nutrition is an approach to food and eating that is attuned, flexible, and non-diet-focused. It is based on the idea that all people are capable of responding to their body’s internal signals, which lead them towards what they need physically and emotionally. This requires breaking rules around eating, perfectionism around eating, and stress around food choices or cravings.

It gives you permission to trust yourself as the best expert on what you need while removing those critical voices that may make you feel ashamed of your choices.

Abbas Jahangir

I am a researcher and writer with a background in food and nutritional science. I am the founder of Foodstrend.com, our reputable online platform offering scientifically-backed articles on health, food, nutrition, kitchen tips, recipes, diet, and fitness. With a commitment to providing accurate and reliable information, we strive to empower our readers to make informed decisions about their health and lifestyle choices. Join us on Foodstrend.com's journey toward a healthier and happier lifestyle.

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