Challenge the Police…the FOOD Police, that is! That nasty inner voice that is ruining your fun and your relationship with food with sneaky food rules, judgment, guilt, and shame. The food police encompass societal pressures, external influences, and internalized beliefs that dictate or judge individuals' eating habits. These pressures can manifest in various ways: social media urging conformity to specific beauty standards or the latest 'healthiest diet,' friends and family unintentionally acting as the food police through comments or unsolicited advice, and an internalized critical inner voice judging one's eating habits, body size, or appearance. It’s not your fault. It was a faulty system you were born into.
Food rules are a normal part of everyday life, and the rules you may believe and follow will differ depending on what has influenced you, and what your history has been with diet culture. Food rules include “no eating after 8 pm” and “refined foods are bad for you.”.. Rules and beliefs that are followed in the pursuit of being “healthy”. But where did they come from? And are they helping you?
Like I said in the third principle - Making Peace With Food (take a look at the making peace with food blog post here) - you are surrounded by rules daily, and they give you direction, but they also sabotage your efforts and create imbalances in your mind and body. Letting go of those rules can feel like you are giving up and may feel extreme for a time, but when you relax and permit yourself, you might find that everything falls into place.
Challenging the food police requires you to identify your food rules, question their validity, and reframe your thought process. A lot of intuitive eating comes down to mindset work and checking what you think you know - I tend to just call this reality checking. This can be difficult and confusing because a lot of the “rules” are coming from people who seem like they have your best interest at heart. This post should help you find some direction, but as always, I am here for you if you are looking for more support on this journey.
Who are the food police?
As I said above, the Food Police, while not an official organization, have managed to infiltrate almost every area of our lives. You may have been born into a family of food police, who learned their rules from the food police in their lives. Perhaps you watch TV and scroll through your social feeds, picking up more rules from influencers and medical professionals. They are at the doctor’s office, grocery stores, restaurants, workplaces, school, and friends houses. They are inside your head! It probably feels like you just can’t escape them.
When you break a food rule, though, the police will not show up and cart you away; they will sit in your head in the form of guilt, shame, and a whole lot of judgment, making you feel like a “bad” person for not conforming. They will make you feel less worthy of love, nourishment, and health care, putting all the blame on you. They will tell you it’s for your own good because they care about your health.
Identifying the food police in your life is the first step to breaking the cycle. Where are the majority of your “food rules” coming from? Are your parents judgemental of what you eat? Do you have friends giving you the side eye when you take a second helping? Are you following diet and wellness accounts online and taking their statements to heart? Or are the food police in your life coming from your own self-talk? When you identify the culprits, you can choose your approach by researching whether their rules make sense for you and your life, whether they are based in truth and reality, or if you might be better off without them. The food police do not control you if you don’t let them.
Identifying Food Rules
So what are the rules? They aren’t written down in a law book or anything, and everyone seems to follow a different set of rules, based on experience. It can be confusing and create a lot of internal conflict. I believe that by examining their validity and denying these food rules, you can take back control over your life. This is where you have the opportunity to start experiencing true food freedom.
Food rules can be things like:
Carbs are bad, or you can’t eat more than one carb in a day
No eating after 8 pm
Sugar is bad for you
Fruit is high in sugar, and that’s bad for you
Avoid high-fat anything
You have to eat clean
Don’t eat too much, but you have to clear your plate
Refined foods are bad for you
You have to eat more protein
Following a defined set of portion size guidelines
Making sure you eat less than X calories per day, or under X amount of points
And the list goes on and on.
Some of these rules come from fad diets and get carried into the mainstream (thanks for ruining carbohydrates atkins & keto!) Some are played off as being for your health. Some are strictly about guilting you into falling in line. They are often contradictory and rarely actually help you, or really increase your health. But how do you tell the difference?
Start by asking yourself how you feel about the rule. Does it make sense to you, given what you know? Do you find it hard to follow because your body always wants the opposite? Is the rule absolute and rigid? Where did the rule come from, and does it have a base in science? If you find it confusing, hard to believe, or it makes you feel bad, it might be time to ditch it.
The one that started it all for me was not eating after 8 pm. Biologically, I know my body doesn’t change how it digests food, whether I am being active or not, sleeping or not, etc. It felt hard to follow because I was often hungry later in the evening. I felt terrible munching on anything, even when I tried to make ‘healthier’ choices, and this all felt very off to me. After examining the concept, I learned that my body does not abide by the clock, and I don’t have to, either. My body did not like certain foods later in the evening, but I didn’t sleep well when hungry. I started to trust my intuition, planning a small snack into my evening, I made sure I was getting enough to eat during the day, and surprise, nothing bad happened, and I actually started to feel and sleep better.
How you think about food matters
Of course, the way you actually view food plays a huge role here. In the second concept of Intuitive eating - Honor Your Hunger (take a look at the honor your hunger blog post here) - we talked about the different types of hunger and the reasons we eat, which can include because you are hungry, because you enjoy the food, because you are at a social event, or because you are bored. The big key here to remember is that food doesn’t hold moral value. Foods aren’t good or bad, and you aren’t good or bad for eating certain foods. This is important to remember as you start to challenge food rules.
Food choices are often influenced by one of two different voices, either the “nutrition informant” or the “diet rebel”. Both will usually leave you feeling less than happy with your choices. The nutritional informant just wants you to be “healthy”. It values perfection all the time with a very black-and-white way of thinking about food. Ie: sugar is bad, green foods are good. But it forgets some key points; like what is good for one person might not be good for another, that everything has its place on your plate, and that you don’t only eat for nutritional purposes.
When you get overwhelmed by the nutrition informant the “diet rebel” comes to the rescue… sort of. The diet rebel is the part of you that eats out of revenge. The one that gives in to all the foods that you have been denying yourself. It usually waits until you are alone, tired, and away from judging eyes, and again, makes you feel bad after.
These distorted ways of thinking make sense to you because they align with the lies that you have been told by diet culture. They offer simple answers and quick fixes to complicated situations. When you change the way that you think about food, you open yourself up to a rainbow of possibilities. The only “rules” that you need to think about when eating, are whether or not you are “allergic” because you don’t need to make yourself sick, and whether or not eating that food will provide you with what you need at the moment (nutritionally or mentally).
This is possible for you too inside my 1:1 Intuitive Eating and Body Image Coaching Program. Inside my coaching I empower my clients, just like you, to take Intuitive Eating beyond the kitchen so that you can unlock the ability to stop second guessing every meal, discover self compassion, and finally begin to feel at home in your body.
When the feeling of guilt comes up after overeating, when you are experiencing negative self-talk every time you step in front of the mirror, or when you are faced with the temptation of starting a new diet every monday, my program is unique because it is founded on support and accountability. You will have me there with you every step of the way. I understand you because I was you.
If you are curious about implementing this in your life, I invite you to join me. Your first step starts with filling out an application so we can chat and figure out if my coaching is the best fit for you.
Change your thoughts - change your behaviour
I hope by now you are starting to identify the food police in your life and the rules that they help create. Maybe you are already examining how you feel about these rules. Changing the way you interpret these rules will change the way you look at food and eat. This is the Intuitive Eating process. Here are a few things to keep in mind as you go through this in your own life:
Observe - if you are new to this journey, take as much time as you need to observe and gather information. As all these rules have been so integrated in our lives it might take time to identify them, and who is enforcing them. It’s ok to take time to examine the world around you and be mindful about your meals. Use a journal or a trusted friend to talk it out and really think about what you know. Try to identify WHERE the food police exist in your life, and WHAT food rules you hold.
Be Kind to Yourself - when you start to make these changes, you are likely to feel some resistance, from your own internal dialogue and the people around you. It is so important to treat yourself with kindness and compassion during this time. Know that what you are doing is with the intention of living your best life, and you have every right to live that life how you want.
Check your Choices - When you eat, ask yourself whether you are listening to the informant or the rebel or if you are actually making these food choices based on self-care + nourishment (not weight loss or guilt). Make a habit of checking in with yourself and trusting your intuition. How do you feel after the choice that you made?
Set Boundaries - This is always going to be part of a healing journey. When you decide to break away from the pack you will have a voice in your head and many outside of it, telling you to go back. Set strict boundaries with these voices and let them know that you know what’s best for your body. Maybe help them question the rules that they are enforcing. Whatever feels right for you at the moment.
Reality Checking - this is a tool that I use with almost every single one of my 1-1 clients. Is your fear rooted in truth and fact? Is the belief about food that you hold actually true? Consider the broader context, what else has gone on in your day, how you are feeling emotionally, and remember that one meal or snack will not make or break your health. Come back to reality here and find the space between fear/judgment and truth/fact.
When you look at the facts and dig a little deeper behind food rules, you will realize that they aren’t based on fact or truth at all; they instead demonize certain ways of eating and serve to leave you feeling guilty. When you see the food police behind their disguises, you can start calling out the BS. When you embrace Intuitive Eating, you will be able to make choices that feel right for you in the moment and identify the little lies that we have been taught all along. It encourages process-oriented thinking, which means you embrace the journey towards the goal, enjoy the process of learning, and see every “mistake” as an opportunity for discovery and curiosity - not self-blame and judgment.