Principle 4: Challenge the Food Police (PODCAST)

food police

In my last episode about Intuitive Eating, we discussed the importance of making peace with food (check out the show notes for episode 9 for journal prompts) and some strategies to begin the process. Chances are that you still may have some underlying rules that you maintain regarding food. That’s normal at this stage. 

As we explored in the first three principles, your mindset won’t change overnight. You are likely working against years of ingrained restrictive eating rules. However, today’s post is all about challenging your inner voice that defines foods as “good” or “bad” (1). In this episode, we discussed what is meant by the “food police,” what are some of the common messages diet culture tells us, and how can we start to silence our own food polices.

I often get the impression that people think dietitians are the food police. We do have diet in our job title after all. However, other non-diet dietitians and I will tell you that people stuck in the diet cycle are their own worst critics. Have you ever categorized a food as good or bad? Maybe you’ve labeled your favorite chocolate dessert as sinful or told yourself you can’t eat after a certain hour of day. This is the internal dialogue in your head that acts as the food police and leaves you feeling guilty for even taking a bite of your favorite food.

In order to be at peace with food, you must stand up to the food police. It’s time to think about foods in a neutral light. Eating a certain food doesn’t make us good or bad. Eating one specific food also won’t make you gain or lose weight. The morality of food language is something I talked about in detail in a post from a couple months back. (Check it out for more in depth analysis as to why diet talk is not helpful.) One of the first steps to take in confronting the food police is identifying what your current food beliefs are. Here are some examples to get you thinking:

  • Carbs are bad for me
  • I’ll gain weight if I eat dessert
  • I’m not allowed to eat after 6pm
  • Fat will make me fat
  • Gluten is bad for me 

We often hear statements like these from the media, celebrities, friends, family members, and even our local gyms. We weren’t born with these beliefs about eating. Rather, we have internalized these messages (and many others) over time due to the diet culture environment we live in. Bringing nonjudgmental awareness to your thoughts and then countering them with facts will help you move to a place of peace with food.

One of the first things I often ask people to do is make a list of some of the beliefs they have about food. It’s hard to address our inner dialogue until we bring awareness to it. Once we realize our recurring thoughts, we can begin to use a method called cognitive behavioral therapy to reframe them (1,2). Lets’s look at the following example:

Unreasonable thought—cognitive distortionI should never eat carbs, especially pasta and bread.

Questions to ask:
Is it really realistic or enjoyable to eliminate carbs?
How do I feel when I don’t eat carbs?
Do I tend to crave carbs more when I take them out of my diet?

Don’t carbs play a role in my body’s daily functions?

Thought reframed: Whenever I have eliminated carbs in the past, I have felt tired and don’t have the energy to do the activities that I enjoy each day. 

Once you have begun to reframe your thoughts as you come up, you can then reflect on the result. For this example, perhaps you have found that you are more focused in class or at work and have more energy to hit the gym after dinner. Maybe you learn that you don’t binge on foods now that they are no longer off limits.

Find ways to challenge your inner food critic this week. This may entail sitting down and journaling about your dieting history and some of the distorted views about food that you have. You might also keep a special note section on your phone to jot down any thoughts as you notice them. I have included a  handout and journal prompts to get you started.

Journal Prompts:

  1. What are some beliefs that you have about food and your body? Make a list (an example might be: “I’ll gain weight if I eat after 6pm.”)
  2. Where do these beliefs come from? Think about your environment and the people in it. Were weight and diet discussed frequently growing up?
  3. How might you reframe your distorted thoughts based on facts and nuance? Practice some examples that may come up frequently for you.

Links Mentioned in Episode:

Sources:

  1. Tribole, E. & Resch, E. (2012). Intuitive eating, 3rd edition. New York, NY: St. Martin’s Griffin.
  2. Tribole, E. & Resch, E. (2017). The intuitive eating workbook. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications.

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