When was the last time that you comfortably ate in front of others, not worrying about what they may be noticing about your eating habits? As you work to reject the diet mentality, the next principle of intuitive eating is to challenge the “food police”!
Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, authors of Intuitive Eating, have this to say:
“The food police monitor the unreasonable rules that dieting has created. The police station is housed deep in your psyche, and its loudspeaker shouts negative barbs, hopeless phrases, and guilt-provoking indictments. Chasing the food police away is a critical step to returning to intuitive eating.”
Were you surprised to hear the food police station described as being housed in your own psyche? Were you expecting the food police to be external forces or people? Like so much of our mental health, what is going on internally drives our ability to function well.
We each have beliefs about the world that are formed even before our ability to speak. Some of the beliefs you pick up inevitably involve ideas, morals, and assumptions about food. As you work towards more of an intuitive eating approach, it is important to develop some awareness of what these thoughts are. Cultivating non judgmental mindfulness around your food thoughts will allow you to vanquish the food police!
Think about the different ideas you may have picked up over a lifetime of interacting with food and the world around you. Perhaps you recognize a belief that carbs are bad and protein is good. You may also have thoughts about sugar, dessert, or “earning” your food. Do you have food rules for yourself, perhaps things like, “No food after 7pm”? Where did some of these thoughts come from?
With non judgmental mindfulness, you don’t have to hand over the power of beratement from the food police to the intuitive eating police. You can observe your thoughts without assigning moralistic values to them (hence “non judgmental” mindfulness!) In doing so, you are able to get curious about the thoughts you have without having to hurry and “shush” them out of shame.
Let’s take a specific example of someone who is fearful of carbohydrates. In that case, the person might examine: Where did my fear of carbs first come from? A parent’s disciplined adherence to a fad diet during my teenage years? Well, that absolutely makes sense! Examine and challenge certain thoughts without beating yourself up for having them.
Identifying cognitive distortions, a principle used often in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, can also be helpful as you approach your thoughts mindfully. A cognitive distortion I see a lot in working with clients is black and white thinking. Do some of the thoughts you have about food illustrate that common distortion?
In our example of the carb avoider, they might have a thought like, “All carbs are bad, so restricting all of them is good.” As they are able to identify thoughts that are extreme, they can begin the work of challenging or reframing the thought. They might ask themselves questions like, “Should I really never eat carbs? Are all of them bad? Are there times when it might be to my benefit to consume a balanced intake of all nutrients?” They can then examine what they have found to be true in their own life. Perhaps they have had times when they heavily restricted carbs and then felt low energy and struggled to not binge eat. They could examine that experience and then develop a reframed, balanced thought like, “My experience has shown me carbs are a normal part of my eating, and they help me feel balanced.” They can then use that reframed thought to remind themselves of the work they are doing every time the food police sound the red alert as they have a carbohydrate in hand!
As you move towards intuitive eating, take some time to non-judgmentally observe your thoughts for the food police. As you do so, lovingly remind yourself that they do not have jurisdiction over your food thoughts and behaviors- you do not need to be policed and reprimanded! Intuitive eating will provide you with an opportunity to learn how to tune back into your natural body cues. No more red and blue flashing lights when carbs are around!