We all hear them.  The voices in our head that say, “you can’t have this”, and “you shouldn’t have that”.  Those voices tell us when we are allowed to eat and when we are supposed to stop eating.  They also tell us that some foods are off limits and only certain foods are allowed. In the Intuitive Eating world these voices are called the food police.  Enter principle four:  Challenge the Food Police:

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 in returning to Intuitive Eating.  

The first big step in challenging these thoughts is to explore them.  Write them down and begin to dig into each belief and where it came from.  Some examples of food rules or beliefs are:

  • I am not allowed to eat carbohydrates unless I work out
  • I shouldn’t eat after 7pm
  • Sweets are off limits unless it is the weekend

These all or nothing rules come from society, familial, and other influences but tend to take over and ruin your relationship with food and your internal body cues and lead to what is called the deprivation effect.  

The Deprivation Effect

Basic psychology suggests that when we deprive ourselves of something it makes us obsess over it and want it more. Chronic dieting often requires you to follow rigid rules that tell you what you can eat and when. It causes us to second guess our bodies’ needs and ignore our hunger and satiety cues. It works at first but then something like a social event, mental health struggles, or being unprepared and you end up breaking said rules. In the end the extreme restriction leads to overconsumption and the cycle continues.

Diet Restraint Theory

Describes what happens when dieters go off of their diet or break food rules (Polivy and Herman):

  1. The What-The-Hell Effect – success is defined by getting through the day without breaking food rules. If a rule is broken consumption of more food is triggered.

  2. Perception – restrained eaters likely to overeat even if they only perceive that they violated one of their food rules

  3. Anticipation of Food Restriction – consumption of forbidden food increases before and after restriction periods. Anticipation of starting a new diet triggers a farewell to food feast.

  4. The Irony of Thought Suppression – trying to force yourself not to think of food or specific food will cause you to actually think of the food you are trying not to think of more frequently and will increase eating behaviors

  5. The Forbidden Fruit Phenomenon – research on children shows that the more parents restrict children from eating certain things the more the children are likely to rebound and eat more of the forbidden food

What foods make you feel out of control?  What foods, when you eat them, cause you to feel guilt and lead to a binge?  Below are some things you can do to feel better around these “bad” foods or the food rules you follow.

Make a List

In your journal make a list of all of your food rules and foods you consider not good.  Write down what you feel or how you react any time that you break a rule or eat a food that you consider off limits.  Notice if your thoughts seem perfectionistic or unrealistic and see how you can reframe the rules you have set.  Challenge the rules with the opposite logic and change the critical voice inside of your head.  Try to think back to when you first established these rules.  Did they come from your family?  A coach?  A trusted friend?  Think back to why you started on that path.  

Create a Progress Chart

Create a list of experiences that you have with your rules and off limits foods.  Each time you eat one of your forbidden foods or break a rule you have set for yourself make a note of it and write down how you feel.  For instance, “I ate some cookies before bed and I didn’t eat the entire bag like I normally do.  It felt really good to allow myself to eat them and not feel out of control”.  Do this with one rule or food at a time and see how it goes.  Take your time and don’t expect perfection.  Remember, you are challenging the “food police” who have been directing your thoughts for a long time.  This will take time.  

Listen to your Inner Food Voices

Your inner food critic can be very harsh and hard on you.  For instance, if you eat that piece of cake you will gain 5 pounds.  Or, if you eat a piece of pizza you will eat the entire pie.  Practice replacing these negative thoughts with more positive and helpful thoughts.  Change them to, if you eat that piece of cake you will enjoy it and move on.  Or, if you eat a piece of pizza you will have a few pieces and move on.  Every time one of these thoughts pops into your head challenge it.  You are in charge of your thoughts and you can change the thoughts.

Working through the critical thoughts will help you get closer to your inner Intuitive Eater Voice which will help you live a more fulfilling life.  Social outings, work events, and family gatherings will be more fun and you will begin to trust your body again.  

Next week we will discuss principle five and begin to explore how to truly feel our fullness.  Join me on Instagram and Facebook in the meantime and have fun shooting those negative thoughts down one by one!