This week’s blog on Intuitive Eating will discuss principle four: Challenge the Food Police. Tribole and Resch, authors of “Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program That Works,” speak of using intuitive eating to combat the dangerous effects diet culture can have on an individual’s relationship with food. In turn, this can (and often will) lead to mental health issues. The “food police” is one’s inner voice that creates conflict in regards to an individual’s food beliefs. This is often described as depicting foods as “good and bad” or “healthy and unhealthy” thus negatively affecting the one evaluates their self-worth based on the foods one consumes. We unconsciously form internalized beliefs and values about ourselves, others, and the world around us from the environment we grow up in. This voice is often termed the “inner community” within our minds.
Our beliefs and values are often formed and influenced by those around us such as a parent(s), family member, friend, coach, teacher, mentor, or even society. This relates to the concept “born to belonging”, where we enter this world with a suitcase full of identities that we must learn, understand, choose to accept, and cope with. Consider that our first days on earth, we are given a name, a sexual identity, a religion, a cultural background, political affiliations (likely derived from our parents), and countless other beliefs and identifiers – without even having made a single decision for ourselves. Now, if you grew up in a competitive sport, you may have been told to eat certain foods to enhance athletic performance or to avoid certain foods to have a certain body. These messages then may be reinforced by family, media, friends, etc., that to be successful, valued, or “ideal” you must eat certain foods and/or restrict other foods. Moreover, these messages carry even greater weight when expressed to us by our idols (parents, role models, figures of authority). This can lead to unreasonable, unsustainable food rules resulting in guilt and shame when these foods are consumed. Individuals with eating disorders typically cope with these negative feelings by restricting, purging, and/or binge eating. These behaviors temporarily alleviate negative feelings, but ultimately the cycle continues.
Challenging the food police means saying ‘no’ to this thought process. It involves identifying food rules, questioning the validity of these rules, and re-framing these thought processes to live guilt-free from food. Let’s break this down a bit. Identifying food rules begins with questioning what our exposures are; where do these rules or guiding principles come from and why are we seeing them? We need to surround ourselves with the ability to identify and assess, ultimately acknowledging the impurities of these messages. Next, we have to question why or how these rules exist. Is there anything truly beneficial, is this in my best interest, is there a need for this behavior in my life? Lastly, and most importantly, we must re-frame. This means accepting our society, our culture, and our way of life, and using every trigger, identifier, and exposure for its beneficial meaning. This simple ideology of re-framing will be strong enough to, at minimum, challenge the food police.
Challenging the food police is the next step in learning how to intuitively eat. In this step, evaluate what foods you deem as “good and bad” or “healthy and unhealthy”. Then, reflect on where these beliefs came from. “When did I start relating foods to emotions and self-worth? Where did this start?”. Now, you can begin challenging these thoughts and beliefs. I encourage you to state these beliefs out loud such as “If I eat bread then I will gain weight and people will judge me.” Often times, irrational thoughts stated out loud takes away the power that thought has over you. Of course, it does not make your feelings any less real, but it is a good starting point to rewire the way you view food. Start asking questions! “Does a piece of chocolate cake really make me a bad person? Am I really feeling guilty because of a piece of cake or perhaps something else, more underlying, is going on that is causing me to feel this way?” or “Aren’t I allowed to enjoy all food because it tastes good without feeling guilty or needing to compensate later?”. I encourage you to start challenging your inner critic! This step can guide you to unconditional acceptance of all foods without judgment.
1TRIBOLE, E. V. E. L. Y. N., & Resch, E. (2020). Intuitive Eating: a revolutionary program that works. S.l.: ST MARTINS ESSENTIALS.