How many "food police" do you have yelling at you inside?
Intuitive Eating Series Principle #4 - Challenge the Food Police
Sweets are BAD for you. Don’t eat anything after 6 PM. Fat? Be afraid, be very afraid. Get those carbs outta my face – I can’t have those! How many food police do you have yelling at you inside? Today’s post is all about getting rid of those pesky little food police that tells you what you can and can’t do with food.
FOOD IS GRAY
First, I want to tell you something important about food. Food is gray. And now I bet you're wondering what on earth that means. Food is gray? Food isn't gray, it's colorful? For our purpose today, you must understand that food is a gray concept. In fact, let me guess that for many years you have probably looked at food as black and white. Ok, before I confuse you even more, let me explain myself.
You see, so often we look at food and eating as a black or white issue. You're either eating the "WRONG" foods or you're eating the "RIGHT" foods. You're either following the rules perfectly, or you're breaking them left and right. You look at certain foods as "good" for you while other foods are "bad" for you. We have a black and white vision of what food is for us in our lives. We're either ON our diet or we're OFF it. That's why today's lesson is all about challenging the food police.
The pesky food police are our thoughts about food that tell us what RULES we should follow. And that's exactly what police are - they're rule monitors. If we're breaking the rules by eating cookies, then that makes us bad, in trouble, or a failure. If we're following the rules by sticking to our diet perfectly, we're doing good. It's as simple as that!
But really, I don't know about you, but that's not how I want to live my life. So, today, might I suggest that you start looking at food in a gray area, not black and white? Food is not "good" or "bad", it just is. It doesn't make you a bad person if you lack self-discipline around food. You're learning and there will be many moments where the gray space is your opportunity to learn, to silence those food police and remind yourself that you are on a journey.
GET RID OF THE FOOD POLICE
So, now that you understand what this "gray" area of food and nutrition is, let's talk about how to get rid of the food police thoughts you have probably daily.
There are 2 steps to getting rid of the food police. They are to first change your self-talk, and second, to focus on what we call process thinking (and don't worry, I'll explain both).
FIRST, CHANGE YOUR SELF TALK
How often during the day do you find yourself using the words "must, should, supposed to, have to, or can't" when describing food and your relationship with it? Do you tell yourself you "should" eat this or you "shouldn't" eat that? Or do you rationalize with yourself that if you follow the "rules" by eating a salad for lunch, you can go out for a burger with dinner? This is a perfect example of the food police working inside you.
So, when you're faced with these kinds of scenarios (which could truly be multiple times per day!), start learning to replace the irrational thoughts with rational ones. Ask yourself, "is what I'm thinking a rational thought? Is what I'm thinking true or false?" Then, replace those negative, irrational thoughts with positive, rational ones. Let's go through a typical scenario to help you understand this concept better.
Let's say you walk into a friend's house and she's making cookies. The smell of cookies fills the house and it's absolutely amazing. But, you've been on a diet for a couple weeks now and you've been doing so well. You can't blow it now. A few thoughts and beliefs fill your head. "I've been so good on my diet lately. I haven't had any sweets. I would love one of those cookies, but I just "shouldn't" have one, because I know if I do I won't be able to stop and I'll blow my diet."
You decide to eat a cookie. The irrational thoughts come back again: "No, I shouldn't have done that, that was not smart, I have no willpower, I'm out of control, I'll never be able to lose weight."
You are filled with the sense of disappointment, of failure, and fear of feeling out of control, lacking willpower. So, then what are your next steps? You eat another cookie, and another until you've eaten way too many cookies to even contemplate feeling like you're following your diet. You've blown it and you feel guilt, frustration, and failure.
What if we could change the scenario to look a little something like this? Same situation, but this time you remind yourself that you gave up dieting and have permission to eat whatever you want. You eat a cookie and enjoy it fully. You're happy and satisfied filled with no guilt whatsoever. Maybe you're content with one cookie and leave the rest alone, or maybe you decide today you want to eat two - and that's ok! But once you've eaten one or two of the cookies, you're done, you feel just fine and you enjoy the rest of the afternoon with your friend without worrying about the cookies.
It was the irrational thoughts that started your spiral downward to the feelings of guilt and failure. But, when you took a step back and reminded yourself about the rational things - that you gave up dieting, you're allowed to eat what you want, you realized that enjoying a cookie or two in a day is completely ok and nothing to worry about because you know you can enjoy it without guilt afterward.
So, next time you're faced with these kinds of irrational thoughts and feelings, take a minute to stop and change that self-talk, you might be surprised at how different your view of food will become!
SECOND, FOCUS ON PROCESS THINKING
Ok, now that you've changed your self-talk, the second step to getting rid of the food police is to focus on process thinking. What is that you say? Well, when you think of a diet, it's very much a linear process. You're on a straight line and only on a straight line from the beginning. There is no room for error. There's only one goal - follow the plan perfectly and weight loss will occur. It's as simple as that.
But, unfortunately, life is not linear. It has bumps, roadblocks, sharp turns, and stop signs. When you think in a linear fashion, you only think about the outcome, the end goal or result. Process thinking focuses on continual change and learning rather than the end result. It's about learning to ride with those bumps, roadblocks, sharp turns, and stop signs while still moving right along.
Becoming a process thinker will help you re-create your relationship with food in a happy way. Let's take a look at how a process thinker thinks.
"Man, I struggled a bit this week with food. But you know what? I learned some new things that will help me make changes in the future and I'm happy with that".
Or how about this one:
"I'm not stressing about my weight loss, because I'm reminded that I'm learning to honor the positive changes I'm making with my relationship with food."
"I ate more dessert than I was hoping tonight, but I'm learning that giving myself permission to eat keeps me from binging later because of feelings of being deprived. If I wouldn't have eaten the dessert at the restaurant, I may have gone even crazier at home later. I'm proud of and happy with what I learned about myself tonight and will continue to work on it every day."
With process thinking, you focus on the positives of the journey. This doesn't mean you won't have hard times and do things you wish you didn't, but instead, each "mistake" you make is another learning opportunity in the journey.
So... if you know me, you know I have some simple homework for you. Take the next week to start listening to the food police in your head. What are they saying? Then, pick one way to change your thoughts one at a time. It could be as simple as reminding yourself to think about food in the gray, or when you're ready, try to create a simple conversation with yourself about changing the irrational thought into a rational one or remind yourself that you're becoming a process thinker and that you're on a journey with ups and downs.
Start changing your thoughts about food and watch your relationship with food change every single day.
Remember to grab your intuitive eating guide below for even more practice.