Principle 4 – Challenge the Food Police
“What on Earth is the food police”?!?! I can hear you asking… I think the explanation by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch (in The Intuitive Eating Workbook) is the best way to summarise it: “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”.
As always, I like to think back to childhood when considering our thoughts and behaviours around food. As a baby and child, we have NO food rules, no hang-ups, no toxic nutritional beliefs. As we grow, we accumulate beliefs, fears and worries about food through society, culture, family, friends, experiences, stories, myths, religion, politics etc… Some of these thoughts may serve us well, but many others feed into our damaged relationship with food and eating. The food police are these thoughts – the food police watch our every bite, and judges our every mouthful. “You shouldn’t have eaten that”; “that’ll make you fat – better do an extra half an hour at the gym”; “that sugar will give you cancer”; those preservatives will make you sick”… The Food Police Station is open and operating all. the. damn. time. We internalise these thoughts, so they become our own inner critic and narrative, but the ‘food police voice’ is one which is shared – this is certainly a collective issue. So, in our quest to become intuitive eaters, we need to challenge the food police by becoming aware of our thoughts in a non-judgemental way. This is very much aligned with our work on Mindful Eating, and how our thoughts and feelings affect our behaviour. It’s a good idea to revisit that information here where we discussed the spirit of non-judgement, and here where we looked at the mindfulness of emotions.
Just a quick word on the “toxic nutritional beliefs” I mentioned above. I call these beliefs/thoughts “toxic” because they are inaccurate and irrational. For example, “Carbs are bad and shouldn’t be eaten after 4pm”, or “fat in food will make me fat”. These are NOT nutritionally sound thoughts – they are not backed by science, and are instead born from media propaganda, nutritional myths and fear tactics. As Tribole and Resch say, these thoughts are “cognitive distortions” – they’re strong thoughts based on false beliefs. Unfortunately, the stronger the thought, the more likely it will influence our behaviour. In other words, the more we believe (rightly or wrongly) that fat makes us fat, the more likely we are to AVOID fat in our diet.
How do we begin to challenge the food police? By exploring a few things:
- What is your belief system about food and your body? This is related to Principle 3 – Make Peace with Food, where we examined food rules. Have a particularly close look at what your beliefs are around food AND body e.g. “I won’t find a partner unless I lose weight and look thinner”.
- Next, have a think about where these thoughts/beliefs might have come from. Family? Friends? The gym? Magazines? Social media? TV?
- Look at your toxic nutritional beliefs or cognitive distortions, and really QUESTION them – Do they make sense? Has your past experience validated them? Does the science/facts support your beliefs? Is there a way you can re-frame them to be more accurate and realistic? How can you re-frame them to remove the judgement and guilt?
- Practice using a “voice” of gratitude and flexibility when it comes to your food and eating, by replacing your negative and restrictive food rules and beliefs. The Mindful Eating work we did around self-compassion can be very useful, so you might want to go back to read that post here.
- Listen to your “inner voices” carefully and try to separate them into voices (i.e. beliefs) that are helpful (work FOR you and a positive relationship with food and body), and those which are unhelpful (work AGAINST your positive relationship with food and body). We want to replace the negative, destructive voices with the positive, helpful and empowering voices. This is something which can be challenging at times, so engaging the help of a qualified professional can be life-changing!