Do you hear those voices in your head telling you that you shouldn't eat the ice cream, or you should just order the salad?
You can call that the food police! I've mentioned over on my IG (@balancedbynutrition) that some people think that dietitians are the food police... But this is far from true and another story for a different post I may touch on another day. Back to the real food police here…
Diet after diet, the food police collect and monitor the rules you follow. I’m talking about alllll rules you were told you had to follow to lose the weight and be healthy, which I know is probably a lot. The food police scrutinizes every eating action you make only to keep you, food, and your body at war. You must challenge the food police and chase away these thoughts in order to feel free around food.
Think about all the commercials, ads, and brands out there making you believe certain foods are bad, or labeling them as guilt-free. From low carb, to low fat, fat burning, metabolism boosting, to good and bad everything... It gets exhausting and confusing to say the least. Our culture is very diet obsessed when you think about it. When did food become such a science instead of just eating the foods we enjoy and moving on with our day? The rules diet culture imposes on food only keep us shaming ourselves, feeling guilty for food choices, and constantly battling the good vs the bad.
"Scream a loud NO to the thoughts in your head that declare you are "good" for eating minimal calories or "bad" because you ate a piece of chocolate cake."
Truth be told, these food rules we create are nothing but unreasonable and leave you feeling like a bad person when they are broken. When you start to accept that there is no morality tied to nourishing your body (no matter what food it is), the rules can start to disappear and the voices will become quieter and quieter allowing you to enjoy your favorite foods in peace, without guilt or regret attached. Daily reminders from diet culture don't make it any easier, but read through this post and start to implement these practices to challenge your food police to continue on your journey to food freedom through intuitive eating.
The voices you listen to in your head when it comes to food can be broken down into five categories:
The Food Police
The Nutrition Informant
The Diet Rebel
The Food Anthropologist
Each voice that pops into your head can be harmful or helpful depending on how you let it affect you. Think about which eating voices you hear as you read through each one.
The Food Police:
The Food Police is developed as a result of dieting. It’s your “inner judge and jury” that determine if you’ve been doing good or bad. This voice only gets stronger after each new diet you try. You don’t have to be dieting to hear these voices and they can also be strengthened as you read about new food rules in magazines or from friends.
How it harms: It scrutinizes every eating action you make. It keeps food and your body at war.
How it helps: It doesn’t!! This voice will never be your ally. You need to learn to challenge this voice in order for it to lose its power on you.
The Nutrition Informant:
The Nutrition Informant voice may tell you to count your calories or grams of carbs. This voice is in tune with nutrition evidence and may seem healthy, but this voice will keep you in line with dieting and following diet rules whether you notice or not. The Nutrition Informant may not allow you to eat any foods with added sweeteners or constantly checking the food labels. I’m not saying that taking a look at a food label is a bad thing here, but when it becomes a meticulous action you have to do before you allow yourself to eat anything is when you’ll notice that this voice colluding with the food police and is the one in charge of your food choices.
How it harms: It operates as the appearance of “health”, but it promotes an unconscious diet and keeps your eating in check with the food police rules.
How it can help: When the food police are banished, the Nutrition Informant becomes your nutrition ally and can help you to make health conscious food choices without guilt or the notion that you have to eat something to be healthy.
The Diet Rebel:
The Diet Rebel is exactly what it sounds like, angry and determined to rebel against diets (but not in an appropriate or healthy way). The Diet Rebel can sound something like “I can’t wait until my husband goes out of town so I can eat whatever I want, without his reprimanding glares.” Or…“Let me see how many cookies I can eat before dinner without my mom noticing.” You can think of the Diet Rebel as your teenage self when all you wanted to do was exactly the opposite of what your parents said.
How it harms: The Diet Rebel will lead to behavior with no limits and often leads to overeating and self-sabotage.
How it can help: The Diet Rebel can become your rebel ally and help you guard your food boundaries.
The Food Anthropologist:
The Food Anthropologist is your neutral observer or the voice that makes observations without judgement. This voice allows you to explore and discover and will lead you on your way to becoming an intuitive eater. This voice notices when you are hungry and full, what you ate, and what you are thinking. The Food Anthropologist’s statements sound something like “I didn’t eat my usual afternoon snack and was ravenously hungry by dinner time.” Or… “I ate two pieces of cake (no judgement, just facts).”
How it helps: A neutral observer that can give you a distant perspective into your eating world. It offers nonjudgmental thoughts that keep you in touch with both your biologic and physiologic signals (this is what we want!!)
How it harms: It doesn’t!
The Nurturer’s voice is gentle and has a soothing quality that is reassuring to let you know everything is going to be okay. This voice is not critical and guides you to bringing out the positive self-talk in your head. The Nurturer will sound like… “It’s okay to have a dessert. Eating dessert is normal.” Or… “I really ate past my fullness today. I wonder if I was too distracted while I was eating.”
How it helps: The nurturer is there for you. It will help you challenge the food police and support you through the process. It will get you through the tough times. It will provide you with the necessary coping statements for when the food police and the diet rebel try to dismantle you for your food choices.
How it harms: It doesn’t!
Now that you’ve read through the food voices, think about which ones you deal with on a daily basis and how much they affect your life. One key practice for challenging the food police is to start challenging your negative self-talk and changing the way you think about yourself.
Banish the absolutes and replace them with permissive statements.
Try to start picking up on the words that you use around food. When you are thinking about what to have for lunch, do you often think “ I should just have a salad,” or “I need to eat healthy today, I ate so badly yesterday.” Carefully listen for the “absolute” words you use (must, ought, need, should, have to, supposed to). This talk and even just thoughts can leave you feeling anxious and guilty if you are not able to follow the commands. Thinking in this way will not guarantee you behave in a way you desire and leads to self-sabotaging behaviors or feelings of failure. Start to change these absolutes with permissive words such as: “I can, it’s okay, I may, I’m allowed.”
The next time that you think you need to go on a diet again, you should skip lunch to lose weight, or you shouldn’t eat the piece of cake at a wedding…
And replace the thought right in its tracks with something like:
- "I am allowed to not be on a diet. Diets make me a miserable person anyways."
- "I can eat whenever I am hungry. Skipping meals only makes me eat more later."
- "It’s okay if I have the piece of cake."
Start to recognize the rules and voices you have.
Being able to recognize these inner voices will help you to challenge the food police and really get down to the root of why they are there. Explore them and think about:
- What are my rules around food?
- Why do I listen to these rules or where did these messages come from in the first place?
- What do I feel like when I “break one of my rules and how does it affect the rest of my day and my eating behaviors?
“Remember to approach your thoughts with curious awareness rather than critical judgement. Be patient and gentle with yourself."
When eating thoughts are irrational and distorted, your feelings of negativity and guilt will escalate quickly if you let them. Instead of thinking in negative ways, you need to start replacing these thoughts and voices with positive talk and rational thinking. Negative self-talk is not useful or helpful when it comes to improving your relationship with food and your body. If you can first start to change your own beliefs, your feelings and behaviors will also begin to change in a chainlike reaction.
I challenge you to make an effort to pay attention to your thoughts that show up while eating. The next time you are eating and find yourself negative in your mind and making eating an uncomfortable experience, check in with yourself and reframe your thoughts. Make the cup half-full versus half-empty and start to increase your positivity. “Challenge the pseudo-nutrition thoughts that come from the Nutrition Informant. Observe your eating through the eyes and voice of your Food Anthropologist and allow it to guide you sensibly. Speak out loud the thoughts of your Rebel Ally so you don’t use food to take care of you. The real protection will come from your Nurturer who knows just how to soothe you and get you through tough situations.”
Food doesn’t have to be a constant battle of good or bad, nor should anyone want to live their life this way! Food can and should be a pleasurable experience that’s a part of your everyday. It doesn’t have to consume you, control you, or define you. Challenge the food police and begin to discard the layers of the negative voices that have been buried deeply. Remember to listen to your rational and instinctual signals, they know best!