• Alice Clarke

Intuitive Eating - Challenging the food police

Many aspects of our lives are governed by rules and regulations that are designed to keep us safe and protect us from harm. Speed restrictions on the roads, laws regarding drugs, age limits for gambling; all of these are designed to protect us from some sort of harm. But what about the rules we find taking over our lives that aren’t providing any benefit to us? The rules that make you feel ashamed when you fancy a chocolate bar or that initiate anxiety when going out for dinner. The rules that have been initiated by society and ourselves about what is ‘good’ and what is ‘bad’. I’m talking about that voice in your head that is forever telling you that you can’t have that cake, or making sure you go and workout before you are allowed to go out for dinner.

Do any of these rules sound familiar?

“I’m not allowed to eat after 7 pm”

“That was a lot of food, so I need to work out now”

“I deserve dessert tonight as I didn’t have it last night”

If they are, it is likely that you are living a life with rules that were never meant to be there.

We make approximately 200 food-related choices each day. Often these choices revolve around factors such as taste, texture and satisfaction. However, this is also 200 opportunities for society, and that voice, to influence those decisions according to what might be ‘good’ or ‘bad’. This voice is more commonly known as the food police and unfortunately rules far too many of our lives. However, please remember that you are not born being ruled by the food police, this voice grows through years and years of exposure to the ingrained diet culture that is within our society.

But how do you rid your life of the food police?

Start by changing food judgements into observations. However, it may be that the judgements that you make towards food are completely unconscious; they are so engrained within you. Therefore, before you change anything, you need to identify the judgements that you are making day-to-day. Every time you catch yourself making a judgement about what you are about to put in your mouth, write it down!

After this, it is time to start changing these judgements in to observations. It is time to move away from “I had a cookie after my dinner last night and so I must be good today” and move towards “I had a cookie after my dinner last night because I fancied one”. It is completely normal to make observations about what you’re eating; it is these observations that help us to maintain good health throughout our lives. It is when they morph into self-judgements that rules and restrictions begin to creep into our daily lives.

Following this, it is time to re-vamp your food vocabulary. Gone are the days of using words such as ‘must’, ‘should’, ‘bad’, ‘can’t’ and ‘must’. It is time to replace these regulations with rational, reasonable statements. Statements focusing around words like ‘may’ and ‘can’; replacing “I must only eat 3 meals each day” with “I can eat whenever I feel hungry”. Develop a bank of positive affirmations that you can arm yourself with for when the food police come lurking.

Some affirmations that my clients have come up with include:

“When I eat more at meals, I don’t feel the need to snack because I feel full and satisfied”

“I had many times this week when I listened to my body and honoured my hunger”

“I am learning to include foods I find satisfying and enjoyable, regardless of what others think”

However, the most important step in ridding your life of the food police is to acknowledge that the process is not linear. When following a linear process, such as a diet, the focus is the result and not the process. Therefore, anything that can be perceived as a failure causes disruption, and commonly in this case, overeating. When shifting your mindset to be more process focused, it opens up opportunity for continued change and learning. This means acknowledging that there will be ups and downs, but also that there will be progression forward. Focusing on the small changes is important, and remember that these changes will add up over time in your progression toward a better relationship with food.

Note: Although this post can be read as stand-alone, if you are looking to learn more about improving your relationship with your body and food make sure to check my other posts in the series.