GV

getrichwithvitamins.com

Healthy Food

6 Ways To Challenge Your Own Restrictive Food Rules

Ever heard a voice in your head saying you can’t eat past 8 pm, can only have one dessert a day, must wait until noon for lunch, or need a vegetable with every meal? As convincing as those thoughts can be—especially in our toxic, diet-centric society—those rigid rules come from the “food police,” which are neither helpful nor accurate.

While the name sounds kind of silly, this is a very real phenomenon. “Food policing” can look like judging what you eat or crave, thinking you “can’t” eat something because it’s “bad” or “wrong,” or telling yourself you can only eat at certain times. Food policing can be done internally (aka, the voice in your head) or externally (saying it out loud to another person).

Challenging the food police is the fourth principle of intuitive eating, a weight-inclusive, evidence-based framework created by Evelyn Tribole, MS, RD, CEDRD-S and Elyse Resch, MS, RD, CEDS-S, authors of Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Anti Diet Approach. We could go on and on about intuitive eating and how great it is, but basically, it involves listening to and trusting your body’s needs and signals. (And it’s backed by science.)

As we’re sure you’re familiar with, however, diet culture (so moralizing food, glorifying weight loss and thinness, and so on) is incredibly prevalent in social circles, advertisements, social media, the fitness and wellness industries, restaurants, and so much more. With all that noise, how can we actually challenge or ignore the food police and overcome our own innocuous food rules? Ahead are some helpful tips from registered dietitians.

How to overcome the food police, challenge your own restrictive food rules, and finally eat intuitively

Learn about all the ways the food police can show up—and write them down

While you may already know that strict food rules are signs of the food police, you might not have recognized the more subtle examples yet. According to Christine Byrne, MPH, RD, LDN, a Raleigh-based private practice dietitian who specializes in eating disorders, the food police is “all the thoughts in your head guiding you away from your internal cues and cravings.”

“If a pasta dish jumps out at you on a menu, but a voice in your head says you should choose a salad instead, that’s the food police,” Byrne says. “If you’re hungry an hour after breakfast but think, ‘I should wait until lunch to eat again,’ that’s the food police.”

“If a pasta dish jumps out at you on a menu, but a voice in your head says you should choose a salad instead, that’s the food police,” Byrne says. “If you’re hungry an hour after breakfast but think, ‘I should wait until lunch to eat again,’ that’s the food police.”

Byrne suggests writing these thoughts down so you can see them more clearly. Then, once you’re able to call those thoughts out as unhelpful, your relationship with food can become healthier as you trust your body more (and eat less culture). Remember: Your body knows what it needs and will tell you. Trust it!

Remind yourself that no food is “bad” or makes you “bad”

Diet culture likes to tell us that an apple is “good” and a cake is “bad.” It can also ignite fear, going as far as to say we’re “good” or “bad” people depending on something as trivial as what we eat—and that’s simply not true.

“We can challenge the food police by remembering there’s no such thing as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ foods,” says Jillian Lampert, PhD, MPH, RD, LDN, FAED, the chief strategy officer of Veritas Collaborative and The Emily Program. “Different foods provide different nutrients and fulfill different needs for people.”

Our bodies require different types and amounts of food, and that’s okay. Remember, all foods have nutrients of some sort, being fed is the best, and your worth isn’t in what you eat or how much you exercise.

Follow food-positive accounts

What you see on social media may make a bigger impact on your thinking than you realize. “Surround yourself with positive media messaging,” says Supriya Lal, RD, MPH, a dietitian in New York City. “Unfollow influencers that promote a harmful diet culture [and] engage with accounts that promote body and [food] positivity.”

This can be tricky, since diet culture can be spread in such insidious ways, even co-opting intuitive eating language. A few reliably brilliant (and thoughtful) accounts to get you started on Instagram are @find.food.freedom, @no.food.rules, and @thenutritiontea.

Remember that obsessing about “health” isn’t healthy

Health isn’t just about physical health—it’s also, equally or more so, about mental health. And focusing on diet culture tales or the food police can be damaging all around. “What you eat does affect your health and mood, but adhering to rigid rules and restrictions can quickly spiral into obsession, self-punishment, and shame, which in some cases can lead to an eating disorder,” Lampert says.

Only eating foods that the food police are happy with can be or lead to orthorexia, a type of eating disorder. Physically, this can lead to malnutrition and other health consequences similar to those of anorexia.

Set boundaries with people in your circle

You may have friends or family you love who are on diets and make hurtful comments. If their words and behaviors are making it hard for you to eat intuitively and challenge the food police, how can you still enjoy time with them?

You may have to initiate that awkward (yet vital) conversation. “Set boundaries with friends and family around what sort of commentary is helpful or harmful around food and intake,” Lal says.

Need some examples of how to word it? in a Well+Good article about “almond mom” behavior, Cara Bohon, PhD, a licensed clinical psychologist, eating disorder expert, vice president of clinical programs at Equip, and clinical associate professor at Stanford University, shared the following:

  • “I’d appreciate it if our conversations didn’t revolve around food anymore. I don’t enjoy discussing our eating habits.”
  • “We’re all different, and what works for you doesn’t work for me. Let’s not talk about it anymore.”
  • “It makes me uncomfortable when we talk about this. Can we talk about something else?”

Notice the thought nonjudgmentally, then let it pass

Last but not least, remember self-compassion. Having a food police voice doesn’t mean you aren’t trying or doing well, or that you’re a “bad” person. You’re also not alone in the experience, and it’s understandable why.

“The goal of intuitive eating, particularly at the beginning, isn’t necessarily to never have a food police thought again,” Byrne says. “We all live in diet culture, so we’re surrounded by diet-y messaging all the time.”

“The goal of intuitive eating, particularly at the beginning, isn’t necessarily to never have a food police thought again,” Byrne says. “We all live in diet culture, so we’re surrounded by diet-y messaging all the time.”

Instead of judging yourself, Byrne recommends calling the thought out for what it is—the (unhelpful) food police—and letting it pass. “You can even visualize it as a cloud that slowly passes overhead until it’s out of sight.”

Ultimately, challenging the food police is about honoring and respecting your body (even if you don’t love it). It does so much for you and is the only one you’ll ever have, so treat it right!

Our editors independently select these products. Making a purchase through our links may earn Well+Good a commission.