I have now been exploring intuitive eating quite deeply for a few months and sharing my Intuitive Eating journey on the blog to help reinforce my learning and hopefully help someone else too. I am now on Principle Four – Challenge the Food Police (for the previous Principles 1 – Reject Diet Culture, 2 – Honour your Hunger and Making Peace with Food please check out my previous posts. Challenging the Food Police follows on pretty well with the previous Principle of Making Peace with Food (which is still very much a work in progress for me).
As ever, I am using my trusting Intuitive Eating book by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch who provide the information and back up from their many years of experience as nutritionists and now IE experts.
This chapter begins with the following slightly depressing statistic that apparently in a random survey of 2,075 adults, 45 percent of them said they felt guilty after eating foods they like!
Feeling guilty for food that we like.
It doesn´t make sense. But I can see it could be the case for many people and certainly the case for those that have dieted or are dieting.
But does it mean that we can never enjoy foods if we always have that guilt attached? If we label foods bad or not allowed, surely that then makes us feel bad when we eat them and lead to a vicious circle of not only eating more as we have ´already been naughty´ and/or lead to us feeling worse about ourselves in the process.
A total lose-lose situation.
In our western society foods are very linked to morality and as Resch and Tribole point out our society worships the lean body and basically anything else can be easily perceived as ´not good enough´´(a state our mind can naturally lean towards anyway). The perceptions around food are further compounded by our culture, advertising, society as a whole as some foods are marketed as being less sinful or more deserved e.g. if they are lower in fat or sugar or that ´you deserve x, y or z´ product after a tough day.
It is easy to say how foods are seen as either good or bad and not just an activity that we need to do a- that it can be a pleasurable one without strings attached.
But how do we get there?
Listen to the voices
The book invites us to listen to the different internal voices we have around food and our choices and to encourage us to tune in to some new ones.
These voices – destructive and empowering – are best explained in this diagram below (based on Dr Berne´s study of personality and ego states) :
The destructive voices outlined at the top – Food Police, Nutrition Informant and Diet Rebel can be counterbalanced by the powerful, ally voices instead – the Nutrition ally, Nurturer, Rebel Ally and finally the Food Anthropologist.
1. The destructive Food Police basically keeps us at war with food and our body, instead we need to challenge this voice however constant and sneaky it is.
2. The Nutrition Informant pretends to be helping us to be healthy and letting us know what might help us, but actually is promoting another diet or restriction or limitation in some way. It colludes with the Food Police to create rules e.g. you can snack, but only if it is fruit or cut-up veggies. The Nutrition Informant can be transformed into the Nutrition Ally once the Food Police have left so there is no hidden agenda. If you then make decisions and feel that you are making compromises or sense guilt then you know that the informant is still in charge, not the ally.
3. The Diet Rebel is the voice that basically says they are going to do whatever they want regardless of what they are told. This can be in charge particularly if we have been dictated to as a child (or older) about what foods to eat/not eat. However, this can transform into the Rebel Ally if we put boundaries in place, particularly around people that try and invade into your foodand eating ´space´ e.g. if someone questions whether you should be eating something or forces you to have seconds – we can just politely tell people that they have no right to comment on what we do or not do with our bodies.
4. The Food Anthropolgist is another voice to encourage as they just deal in the facts and are observant, using all of the info as one big experiment and not to judge or set any rules or limitations. For example observing the facts, I had a big breakfast and I am still hungry at 11am. I felt guilty about eating those chocolate biscuits or I am not particularly enjoying this salad.
All and only facts.
It encourages neutrality, non judgement and therefore no layers of emotion are placed on top of our eating which ultimately leads to liberation (and less emotional eating too).
5. The Nurturer is the final voice to transform the negative voices as it is gentle and compassionate and works to normalise and accept our behaviour. It basically talks to us as if we were a good friend and points out the positives or reframes ´negatives´with normalising statements – just to say it is ok and point out the positives instead.
Ultimately, we were all born as Intuitive Eaters and over time society, family, conditioning, you name it (!) they have all created other voices in our heads. In turn they can can turn us into non-intuitive eaters, emotional eaters or just plain out of sync with our bodies. We can get back to that intuitive eater by being aware of our thoughts, emotions and the various voices and encouraging the positive, nurturing and compassionate voices.
At the end of the day Intuitive Eating is fluid and adapts to the changes in our lives, diets are rigid and restrictive and who wants to live a life like that?
If we honour our gut reactions whether we are hungry, full or otherwise and listen to the positive messages we are truly working in harmony with who we are and our innate self and our abilities.
Power of self-talk
The other powerful voice or component that we also need to be aware of is our negative self talk.
If we notice repetitive or intense feelings, particularly around food it is time to investigate further. We may notice with this exploration that there are distorted thoughts or beliefs that are making our lives harder and our food choices too. For example if we notice that we feel unhappy in our body the next day having eating pizza then we need to delve into this further and ask ourselves how we feel in our bodies and not just our thoughts. This may uncover that I am sensitive to salt or a bit sensitive to gluten and therefore I may feel uncomfortable for a short period of time. You can then decide how to deal with this. The first thought of feeling unhappy with our body might lead to us saying that they will never eat pizza again, the second choice may decide to carry on and be aware of the consequences, eat less pizza or that they would rather eat something else instead if they were that uncomfortable. None of the latter choices are made as a blanket statement forever and just how they feel in that moment. Seeing the whole picture and being curious is very important here.
Go for Grey
Instead of black and white thinking go for grey. Sounds boring? Maybe, but going grey means that there are NO rules about what we can or can´t have, when to eat or not to eat, how to eat food. The end to black and white thinking.
All rules and restrictions are off the table.
Similarly we need to ban the word ´should´ from our vocab (and not just in relation to food!) that leads to judgement, shaming and rigid thinking. Instead we can replace all absolute terms whether it be should, must, ought, supposed with more flexible and permissive words and statements, for example I could, I may – in that moment!
Pessimism and Negativity
It is so easy to get stuck in a negative rut, particularly in relation to food when there can be so many things to judge or beat ourselves up over. Guess what? None of it is helpful in any shape or form, yet we can still find ourselves doing it.
Can you see how any of these statements are helpful or empowering?
I´l never like my body
I´ll never get a husband/girlfriend/job until I get a better body
I can´t control myself around chocolate/crisps/alcohol/cheese
Instead we can try and replace these thoughts with more observant and positive thoughts that can lead to a more compassionate voice and friend inside to become more body accepting and liberate ourselves from the food and body prison.
Equally always looking at the ´bad´choices we have made around food is incredibly disempowering and leaves us in a black hole. We can choose how we reflect on our week, our eating habits, our choices in life and the positive choices or changes (however big or small) that we have made. So we reframe our choices to be more in the perspective of a glass half-full than half-empty. For example, instead of beating ourselves up for eating something we felt we shouldn´t, we acknowledge the other positive choices we made that day/week or the progress we have made from where we started.
Avoid Linear Thinking
This is certainly something I am conscious of having started Intuitive Eating. With IE you have to embrace the process and the journey, none of this can be done by a set date or timeframe. Instead we have to think about honouring the continual change, the process and learning about ourselves, rather than an end point. Intuitive eating is not an exact science and is obviously different for each one of us and we need to work to embrace ourselves as part of this. Being observant about our bodies and our mind is paramount, as is being factual and at the core to it all, being kind. For example we can say to ourselves, I had a tough day today and ate more than I might have liked, but that´s ok, I learnt that x was a trigger for me and that I did/didn´t feel any better having eaten that/that much so I will try and be aware of this next time. Being the good friend, kind mother to ourselves. Self care, rather than self abuse is the only thing that will help us.
This is all a learning process.
What do you think about Challenging the Food Police? Have you noticed the judgements in your head and how have you tackled them? What could help you or has helped you to tune into your supportive voices and returning to who you are? As always, I would LOVE to hear your feedback, thoughts, ideas and questions below.
Images: King’s Church International, Matthew Waring, name_ gravity, Vero Manrique