The Food Police – The only police I ever suggest you challenge.
When was the last time you ate something and felt totally neutral about it? Sure you enjoyed it, it felt good, but without any judgment or further thought, you simply moved on? Some studies show that up to 45% of people feel guilty after eating foods they LIKE (1). Unless the thing you like hurts yourself or someone else, I’m not convinced it’s worthy of guilt.
Guilt: the fact of having committed a breach of conduct especially violating law and involving a penalty (2).
See? Even Merriam-Webster can tell you that guilt is most often associated with committing some sort of crime, or breaking a rule, and has awareness of some involvement of penalty. Does this really make sense as an emotional reaction to food? I mean, if the food is stolen, maybe. But day to day eating? Violating a law? Being penalized? No thank you.
Unfortunately, in a culture infamous for moralizing food, it makes sense that we’ve shifted our vision of food away from simply fulfilling part of a natural necessity of daily life. Suddenly those nuts and berries we’ve gathered are decadent, sinful, and tempting. Food can now be considered as magical as “medicine” to as terrible as death all in the same day. If you’re feeling confused, go head over to my previous blogs in this IE 101 series. So much of our food perception is molded and influenced by a culture, a business, that was created with a purpose of profiting from our guilt and shame.
News flash – you don’t have to be a “dieter” to hear the food police! The moralizing of food is everywhere, even where you might least expect it, and our cultural reliance on technology is a sure-fine way to assure we are completely inundated. Just as we [okay, some] are able to recall the work of Edgar Allen Poe, or what H2O stands for, or how to perform PEMDAS from algebra 1, or the lyrics of anything from Spice Girls to Tom Petty, if we see and hear something often enough, it finds a nice little sitting space in our brain.
So, what now? First, it’s so important to acknowledge that even things that find little sitting spaces in our brains are not always factual. Like that time in history class when you swore the Pearl Harbor attack was in 1942 and not 1941 [oops], being bombarded with information doesn’t make all of that information true. This is what we consider Cognitive Distortions. Cognitive distortions are possible because our beliefs affect our thoughts. If you truly believe brownies will stick to your thighs, and that having fat thighs is the worst thing in the world, then yes, your thoughts will follow suit in supporting this concept.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is a methodology in which we can build skills in evaluating thoughts, and reconstruct them if they are faulty (3). Not only do beliefs affect thoughts, but thoughts affect emotions. So those fat brownie thighs I mentioned being “the worst thing ever?” I can only imagine you’d feel AWFUL after eating said brownie. [Clarification, I love brownies and thighs of all kinds.]
It’s time to FACT CHECK. What part of your brain is dictating that thought? Where is the belief from? Things to consider:
The Food Police: The voice that gives rigid rules and limits around food, and for sure will be your judge and jury at any moment.
The Nutrition Informant: Like the Brainiac in science class, will be sure to remind you of every diet-related piece of information you’ve ever stored. Need to know the grams of carb in a Nutrigrain Bar [for some odd reason]? This is your guy.
The Diet Rebel: The angry and determined part of you that is SICK of all of these rules. “I will never neglect donuts again! In fact, I will eat all of the donuts! YOLO!”
No matter which smattering of thoughts, all of the above are great at only a few things: placing judgment, causing negative emotions [hello, guilt and shame], and keeping one completely out of touch with their intuition. It is almost too easy for us to drive into the lands of black and white, magical, or catastrophic thinking. Rigidity, absolutes, and exaggerated misery.
Now let’s consider that there is some hope for all of this – your Allies:
The Food Anthropologist: A purely observational part of your brain that has the ability to help you make connections and build food relationship insight, without judgment. [“Hmm, when I eat more than 2 donuts in one sitting, my belly hurts.”]
The Nurturer: The lovely, gentle, caretaker-like voice that serves to remind you of everything wonderful and okay in the world. A means of soothing when the awful thoughts above are simply too much. [Note: this is VERY hard for some people! Part of why my practice exists is to fill in this position for those who need time and space to nourish their own Nurturer.]
The Nutrition Ally: All of that nutrition knowledge you have in that brain of yours somewhere? This Goddess provides a more neutral way of making food decisions that will support your health, energy, satiety and satisfaction.
The most desired and helpful thoughts of them all are those carried by The Intuitive Eater. Being able to call out and fact check the misery of what is the Food Police, Nutrition Information and Diet Rebel is part of nourishing the awareness of your Ally Voices. Whether it be by reading these blogs, following inspirational people on social media, or meeting individually with your dietitian, it is possible to create space for neutral observations of food and body, provide soothing self-compassion, and strive for nutritious health and satisfaction.
Need help getting started?
- Get curious about your negative self-talk. There is no need for further judgment or shame than we already have. Start asking yourself questions, “Why might I think that? Where does it come from?”
- Check the facts. Remember that thoughts are not always truth, and often do not have supporting evidence.
- Express gratitude. Take a deep dive into my blog Giving Thanks for more on the science, but know that a great way to start shifting negative self-talk into something positive is to start acknowledging things you are grateful for.
- Get rid of the absolutes, and be permissive. Use that big ‘ole heart of yours to pour a little self-compassion onto your wounds and watch ’em heal. Give yourself permission to feel the feels, and make change.
These concepts are HARD to practice. As a dietitian in this particular niche, I often consider myself a nutrition therapist. No, I do not have a degree in therapy and would never pretend to have the level of skill as a trained therapist, but avoiding the use of therapeutic skills in exploring IE is impossible. Always consider the amount of support you might need in exploring the nitty gritty, not so nice parts of your food and body relationship!
- Bacon, Linda. Health at every size: The surprising truth about your weight. Dallas, TX: BenBella Books, 2010.
- “Guilt.” Merriam-Webster.com. 2011. https://www.merriam-webster.com (1 August 2019).
- Tribole, Evelyn, and Elyse Resch. The Intuitive eating workbook: Ten principles for nourishing a healthy relationship with food. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, Inc., 2017.