Intuitive Eating – Challenge the Food Police Review

I trust you in scrabble letters intuitive eating

So a couple of weeks back, I wrote about the Fourth Principle of Intuitive Eating, Challenge the Food Police, as usual I have since reflected on the period since learning about it and also spent some time going through the Intuitive Eating workbook and exercises.

I found this section of the workbook the most helpful and empowering so far as it has provided some really helpful ways of reframing thinking and empowering ourselves to change our mindsets around our thoughts and behaviours.

The workbook does cover some of the same material as the original book,I find it a bit more up to date and actionable, but less in depth.

Again, we are taken through the whole of our conditioning around food and how certain foods are labelled morally as being good, sinful, decadent and creating a false religion in our society, the ´perfect´ body being the ´god´ to worship and adore.

Instead we are invited to cultivate awareness around our thoughts with food and then for that to become non-judgemental so that ultimately the food police voice disappears. Obviously this takes some time and patience to get to, but I can certainly see how cultivating the non-judgmental awareness has given me space to see my patterns and what works for me and my body and what doesn´t.

Food and body beliefs

Next up we are invited to look at our belief system around food and our body. For example, some beliefs might be that carbohydrates are not necessary during the day or no food after 6pm, if you eat fat you will get fat, you will only get a partner if you are thin, I am no good at diets, etc, etc.

hands in prayer

Having thought about my eating for quite some time I found I have been stuck in some beliefs since childhood around my body and my yo-yoing weight which have been created and added to by family, society and my own lack of self-compassion.

Following on from these beliefs I/we can see how these create and trigger thoughts around our body and food (and anything else for that matter!) These are often disempowering and unhelpful and keep us stuck out of touch with our bodies and ourselves. For example, these unhelpful thoughts could include I just haven´t found the right diet yet, I have no willpower or I turn to food when I am stressed or x, y, z.

Having noticed these ´food police´ type thoughts we can work with them in one of two ways:

Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT)

This basically involves looking at your thought and reframing it if it is exaggerated or somehow faulty. If it is, we can ask ourselves whether there is any scientific evidence to support the thought or what experience do we have to suggest it is correct?

We can then reflect and evaluate – with compassion – whether it is correct or we can reframing it, particularly in the light of our own personal experience.

For example here is something I have found from my personal experience:

Thought: I should eat no carbs at lunchtime as I then get sleepy.

Questions to ask myself: Should I really eat no carbs at all?

What has been my experience when I have eaten a lot of carbs at other points during the day?

How do I feel later in the day if I eat no carbs at lunchtime?

Reframe, based on past experience: If I eat no carbs at lunchtime, then I find that at about 4/5pm I get very hungry, especially for sugar and I will seek it out in any form which can result in bingeing.

Reflection now I have acted on this reframed thought: Now I eat some carbs at lunchtime (but listen to my body as to how much to ensure I don´t get sleepy or bloated) then I notice that I feel fuller for longer and don´t turn to sugary snacks before dinner.

Reframe with Facts

The second way to challenge any cognitive distortions or faulty thoughts is to state them based on facts.

For example:

Distorted fact: I will always run to chocolate or food in general when I am tired or stressed

Reframed based on facts: Sometimes I do crave chocolate or comfort food if I am very tired or anxious, but I am increasingly aware of this and I am also allowed to eat these foods if I choose to.

Curious Awareness

If we can start to be more aware of our thoughts then we can see what we are working with. I personally used to find it very difficult when I first started trying to examine my thoughts many years ago. If you find it hard to know your thoughts then I really recommend you try to journal, sit quietly or meditate just for a few minutes a day to start to observe your thoughts and not try and stop them – just notice them. This is a form of mindfulness and once we start doing it it does get easier over time. Once we notice the thoughts we can then decide whether to give them our attention or not and it is very important to not pass any judgment on them at all – just be curious. Just give ourselves permission to see what is there and give it space and notice when we do go to judge, criticise, whatever and how it makes you feel.

magnifying glass curious awareness

A fact in this situation might be: I ate a bar of chocolate yesterday.
My mind may add some judgement to that : I ate a bar of chocolate yesterday because I am weak and greedy and after I ate it I felt really guilty.

How does that judgement make me feel? What other impact may that have on me, my behaviour and my relationship with myself and those around me?

Instead of judgement we can just notice and then, if we choose, label the judgment voice as thinking or even give it a funny name like Mrs judgypants (or whatever!) to start to give ourselves space and distance from the judgement, rather than more airtime. For anyone keen to explore this more around food or any thoughts or behaviour, I really recommend the resources and especially the book The Happiness Trap by Dr Russ Harris which has really helped me in the past with my mental health and general mental awareness and empowerment.

Thoughts to Feelings

As in the example above you can see how these disempowering thoughts or judgements can lead to all sorts of feelings from shame, guilt, fear to anxiety and even anger.

The exercises in the workbook invite us to notice how this has happened for us and to reframe our judgemental thoughts and how this has affected our feelings. Also to investigate how our feelings can affect our behaviour, which is crucial to food and eating, I think. For example, I know now after many years of practicing mindful awareness that if I am upset about something then this can trigger me to look for something to eat (or in the past drink alcohol) as I have had the belief that food will be the answer to my problem. However, this that can lead me to feel guilty or shameful and creates a negative spiral which can lead to more eating or other behaviours that I later regret. Instead, if I reflect on the thoughts and/or feelings and previous experience and then state the facts of the situation I can start to consider what I really do need in that situation. This may be food, but also may be a walk, a rest, talking to a friend, whatever. The mindful awareness is starting to put a brake on the thoughts and behaviours so we can see what is going on and have space and choose how to react.

Spiral of Healing

This part is critical for all self improvement and of course, for Intuitive Eating.

spiral of healing intuitive eating

If we come from a place of curiosity around our thoughts, feelings, beliefs and behaviours and not judgment we are on the upward spiral of healing. This is not something that we switch on and it just works, but a constant throughout our journey, our life. Whether we have a good day, or have what we might call a setback, if we meet these all with curious awareness then we then continue and deepen our journey, we keep learning and healing our relationship with ourselves and with food.

Every moment and experience whether we see it as positive or negative is a learning experience. If we can start to see even the setbacks as that, then we are truly on the upward, rather than downward spiral of healing.

The workbook has some more helpful exercises around transforming our negative self talk, framing our behaviours to include the ´most part´ so we don´t just have black and white thinking or thoughts but are on a path of improvement and growth so keep us evolving, not being stuck.

Food rules

The next part looks at our food rules and our family´s food rules that we have had in place and asks us to challenge them with flexibility and compassion. For example, ´I will eat no sweets, desserts or chocolate´ can be replaced with ´I can eat a healthy balanced diet for the most part, but I will also listen to my body and its´ signals and not deprive myself of any food including those above if I choose to eat them. I have made peace with all foods´.

Which one is most empowering?

Of course, just because we say these things doesn´t mean we believe them on day 1, but we are starting to change our perceptions and our thinking. After all, how many years have we been thinking one way about food and our bodies?

Self talk

As you have no doubt gathered, this part in Intuitive Eating is probably the most important. We can try to set limits and boundaries for how others talk to us about food and our bodies, especially if we are now more in control around our eating, unlike when we were kids. We are not usually the ones in control of how others talk or behave towards us. However, we are in control of how we talk to ourselves, which if you have been working on mindful awareness you will often notice is usually not very kindly, which (sadly) is totally normal!

What is your self talk around food?

Imagine you went out for lunch and had a main course and then dessert and felt pretty full afterwards. Would you tell yourself that you ate too much? That you shouldn´t eat for the rest of the day? (judgmental food police)

or would you say:

I will eat whatever I want for dinner and will most likely have some extra chips and a glass of wine too? (rebellious child or teenager voice)

or would you say:

I really enjoyed my lunch, I am not hungry at all now, but I will see how I feel later if I am hungry I might have the same again or maybe I will just feel like a salad. That´s ok, I´ll see how I go.

How did each of those statements make you feel?

Which one would you most likely err towards?

How might that impact your thoughts and behaviour?

If we create harsh judgments and rules for ourselves these are creating barriers between ourselves and listening to our bodies and what we need in that moment. They hinder us from becoming an intuitive eater. Only if we are regularly objective and meet ourselves with curious non judgment, with kindness, can we heal our relationship with ourselves, our bodies and with food.

megaphones listening to voices

Food voices

As in the previous post, the workbook discusses the voices around the food police and judgment and the more empowering powerful ally voices. Again we are invited to explore our own thoughts and whether the judgmental voices or ally voices are more in charge in our minds and start to cultivate the ally voices. The ally voices that observe facts are loving and kind and help guide us to make the right decisions for us and our bodies in that moment including what types of food and how much.

These exercises were helpful to give some concrete examples around the intuitive eater voice and how to totally change my language around my eating and food instead of being so judgmental, thinking black and white and starting to respond from moment to moment. All of these allow me to meet myself with more grace and compassion which is ultimately going to free me from a lot of personal suffering (most of which is self-inflicted!) and from evolving to be the eater, the person, I wish to be.

For example, if I am not feeling great today and I was supposed to go to an exercise class I can ask myself whether my body needs rest or whatever else in that moment, or I could see if I feel better later on or to go tomorrow instead of forcing myself to do something (but this requires some personal attunement to see if we are really not feeling great or are just resisting! We need to take the most loving action in that moment).

Side note – I love how Jungian Psychologist, Sheryl Paul works with resistance (and pretty much everything tbh!) Here is a very useful image she has shared around resistance and loving action towards ourselves.

resistance wisdom of anxiety

Another example might be I am going to a restaurant that I know does the most delicious chocolate dessert tonight and I know I would love it again, so I will definitely have it. Instead I could approach the situation by saying to myself: That dessert is delicious and maybe I will have it, but I will see how I feel after my meal or will see if I want to share it so I don´t feel uncomfortable later on like I did last time when I ate it all, I will just see how it goes later.

No rules or things off limits. Just approaching life minute by minute, seeing how we feel. I know for me, this is how I would like to approach life a not more, less of a sense of seeking definites, more open to life and all its´pleasures!

Challenge the Food Police

My personal experience

I have been doing this Intuitive Eating malarkey for several months now and have noticed some changes in my behaviour and certainly become a lot more aware of my thoughts. It has been particularly interesting to me the last couple of weeks as we travelled to the UK and I have had several celebrations of my 50th Birthday (yipee!). I realised that the last few months that I have not been eating a much food as I have been listening to my body more, but if I am 100% honest I have also noticed that there has been a sneaky diet voice there that was still aiming for me to lose weight, especially before my trip to the UK. Since then I have certainly eaten more chocolate and sweet stuff, which my compassionate voice could also say has been because I have received a lot for my Birthday and I have been really tired! That said, I know that it has led to me questioning my thoughts more around my body and trying to be more kind and appreciative of it. I have still not weighed myself despite a very strong desire to do so. I was fairly convinced I had lost weight before my Birthday, but now I am not so sure, but, more imporantly I do know I feel better in my body and certainly more connected to it. And that can only be a good thing! I have also found lots of ways to exercise my body which I am really enjoing so again that can only be good!

The healing spiral was a great reminder for me this week as I continue on this path that it is not a destination, but a journey. I will keep revisiting some beliefs and thoughts and keep having to learn the same or similar lesson.

That is ok, I am human.

I am learning.

I am learning to give myself a bit more grace and compassion, but it does not come easily to me, I am a hard taskmaster! The main thing is that I still believe in my heart that this is the right path for me and for us all. So I will keep going with my trusty books and keep trying to cultivate the ally voices so I can ultimately banish the judgemental food police and become fully connected to and accepting of me.

Do you notice judgmental or ally voices in your head about food and your body? Do you meet your thoughts with compassion and how do you cultivate these? What do you think about the food police, have they helped you with your relationship to food and your body? As I always say, I would absolutely LOVE to hear from you and what your thoughts, feelings, questions are or even just to say hello!

Thanks for reading, until next time!

Images: Nathan Dumlao, Brett Jordan, Ahmed Zayan, aboodi vesakaran, Javier Allegue Barros

2 thoughts on “Intuitive Eating – Challenge the Food Police Review

  1. Thanks Emma, a really interesting read and so much of it resonates with me. As my girls reach mid-teens I find they really turn to sweet snacks when they are stressed and tired and I find it really hard to be reasonable and mindful in my approach to them about this, which is clearly related to my own self-judgement when I hit the sugary snacks. Would love to hear more about how you use your mindful approach with the kids.

    1. Hi Corinna, Thanks so much for the comment and glad that you are finding this information resonating with you too!

      Great question about how we approach with kids and this is certainly a work in progress for me (as is it all!). It certainly sounds like you are mindfully aware of what are your own thoughts and judgements which is crucial for us owning our part and how these trigger our own beliefs and behaviours, before we even think about our kids. Being neutral to all foods is certainly not coming easy to me either, nor is the making all foods neutral or permissive allowing our kids to eat sugary or salty snacks endlessly. But thankfully, that is not what Intuitive Eating is about (when I get to the later principles it will also include nourishing ourselves and nutrition more).

      Whilst you are obviously aware of when they reach for the sweet snacks when they are tired and/or stressed, I wonder if they are? I have gently tried asking my kids (particularly when they get in from school) how hungry they are, before we even get into the kitchen and scramble for food. This is my attempt to break the circuit and for them to first think about their level of hunger before instinctively just reaching for their habitual snack or what their mind (rather than their body) might be saying that they want or need. I also will regularly include a discussion around eating to nourish our bodies too, so that we eat a mixture of food and explain how many snack foods do not actually fuel our bodies, not that they are off-limits (and therefore potentially even more attractive). I also try and pepper our conversations with information about the variety of foods and colours our body needs and how long we may be satiated by certain snacky foods. I am also a little sneaky and always meet them from the train station, their activities or school with some fruit and also a sandwich on occasion, so they are not ravenous when they get in which can lead to them scoffing whatever they find when they get in (and is also my own personal experience!!)

      Curious to hear how your girls feel after eating whatever they eat too (in body and mind) and whether they judge themselves which is sadly what happens with most of us. Mindful awareness and self-compassion/kindness for ourselves and then our kids is crucial, I really think that kids are a great mirror for us to see so much about ourselves and start to model to be the women we aspire to be. At the end of the day we, as mums and parents know our kids best and we can observe first hand their patterns and behaviours and have open non-judgmental conversations and hopefully empower them to be their own best ally too.

      This all feels a little counter-culture, but I am confident it is the path for empowering ourselves and our future generations. Keen to hear how it goes for you and your girls!

      Good luck!

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