Challenging the Food Police
The food police are the unreasonable set of food rules that declare us “good” or “bad.” These judgmental internal thoughts telling us which foods make us good or bad are developed by exposure to Instagram influencers, magazines, friends/family, societal pressure, or strict diets. Challenging the food police means questioning the validity of these food rules, and reframing them to live shame-free from food. Principle 4 of our Intuitive Eating journey will help make food neutral to your character: you are not good for eating a salad and you are not bad for enjoying a burger.
It’s impossible to have a healthy, natural relationship with food when the food police is inaccurately translating your food choices into moral character. The food police keeps you in the diet mentality rather than freeing you to eat according to your internal cues. Here are a few examples of thoughts monitored by the food police:
- I wouldn’t be a good parent if I let my kids eat more than 1 piece of candy.
- I need to exercise today; I ate way too many cookies last night.
- I couldn’t stop eating chocolate today; I’m such an awful person.
- I ordered pizza for dinner, I’m so weak.
- I chose an apple instead of a cookie today, I deserve dessert later.
- I ate after 7 pm tonight; I need to skip breakfast tomorrow.
- I ate a sandwich for lunch, I can’t have any bread at dinner.
- Eating too many carbs will make me gain weight and people will judge me.
These are examples of external factors that dictate food choices rather than internal factors. Make food choices based on hunger, satisfaction, and personal health rather than diet rules from the internet. This will help you live a healthy lifestyle with food freedom at the center. Now say you avoid ice cream in the name of your own health, or you avoid burgers for personal preference, but then feel shame whenever you do eat ice cream or burgers–the food police still has a hold on you. No rules mean defining healthy eating on your own terms; guilt-free.
Do not feel shameful for enjoying foods. Your weight or eating habits are in no way a reflection of the type of person you are. The quieter these shame and guilt-ridden thoughts are, the easier it is to listen to how our bodies are telling us to eat intuitively. Here are some things you can do to start challenging the food police:
- Create a positive coping statement when those thoughts creep back in: “My food choices are not who I am,” or “I can set my own rules.”
- Surround yourself with friends and social media accounts that are supporting your journey to find peace with food.
- Stay away from absolutes like “can’t,” “never,” “need to,” “must,” and “shouldn’t.” Replace them with permissive words like “can,” “may,” and “okay.”
- Approach these questions with “curious awareness rather than critical judgment” (intuitiveeating.org).
- What are your current food rules?
- Where did these rules come from, and how do they get reinforced?
- How do you feel when you break a food rule?
- Are the rules you have in place effective in creating an overall balanced, healthy life long-term?
- When do judgments or guilt-inducing thoughts tend to arise?
- Use process thinking rather than linear thinking.
- Dieting rules set you up for linear thinking where the focus is on the end goal. This can be dangerous when you make a mistake. Linear thinking might lead you to think “I messed up. I moved one step away from the goal. I might as well overeat because I’m already headed away from my goal.” Switching to process thinking can put the focus on continual change and growth rather than the end goal. That way there’s less pressure when you misstep. “I overate today at dinner, but I learned that permitting myself to eat pasta made me crave it less. Now I know to practice eating a portion size that will make me feel better afterwards.” The small wins will help propel you towards your goal over time, learning plenty along the way.
It is impossible to completely remove the food police from your environment. The diet mentality is everywhere, from social media to conversation. However, you can learn to look at these messages critically, question their validity, and make your own rules. If you feel personal guilt or shame when eating certain foods, it’s time to challenge the food police! Develop a healthy lifestyle separate from your self-worth.
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