The 10 Principles of Intuitive Eating are from Tribole and Resch's Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program that Works.
Principle 4: Challenge the Food Police
We've all heard of the Food Police, right? They have the (rightfully earned) reputation for being the bad guy that has to police each and every single on of your food decisions. The Food Police like to keep their headquarters set up inside your mind, and they have "deputies" on the outside as well. Maybe you co-worker in the next cubicle told you how you shouldn't eat that for breakfast. What about that ad in the magazine you flipped through at the store? You know the one telling you that your body isn't good enough and you need a certain product to "fix" it? And don't forget your well-meaning care provider that suggested if you cut back on certain foods that you would most certainly have a better health profile.
The Food Police are everywhere, folks. And while we can't silence all of the deputies on the outside, we can stand up to them or take measures to attempt not to engage them in food talk. You can choose to consume media (shows, magazines, social apps like Instagram) that build you up instead of tearing you down. You can talk with your peers and let them know you'd rather not discuss matters of your food choices or your body. If your care provider is unwilling to hear you out on the Health at Every Size® approach, you can begin seeing a physician who is open to providing care without the weight loss lens.
Okay... these steps to dispatch the deputies are all well and good, but what about the Food Police on the inside? You know, the ones with headquarters right in the middle of your mind?
Self-Talk SHow Down
Self-talk is the things you say to yourself, tell yourself to accept, and preach to yourself as truth. It has the power to build you up from the inside or rip you apart at the seams. One of my former clients, Anita*, is a perfect example of how the Food Police had taken over her self-talk.
Self-talk is the things you say to yourself, tell yourself to accept, and preach to yourself as truth. It has the power to build you up from the inside or tear you apart at the seams.
When Anita first contacted me, it was out of desperation. She had worked with other dietitians in the past and started a new diet each time the old diet failed, but she was really feeling the strain of weight cycling. It had taken a toll on her body as well as her mental health. Her self-talk was filled with phrases like "you're a failure because you can't keep off the weight", "if you could just stick to the rules, you wouldn't be gaining the weight back", and "you don't need that unhealthy meal—just wait until after you've worked out and then eat a sensible salad with chicken". She was constantly bombarded with food policing and diet thoughts that she wasn't able to think of much else (that and how hungry she was all of the time).
In addition to setting up headquarters in Anita's mind to bombard her thoughts, the Food Police were also controlling her schedule! The Food Police had set up rules for Anita to only eat at certain times during the day. If she ate outside of her schedule, the Food Police starting yelling at her loudly. The Food Police had even convinced her that she couldn't eat after 6:00 pm! They had set up rules for her and infiltrated her schedule so deeply that she was unable to focus and was left quite exhausted from lack of food and the constantly parading squad of Food Police in her mind.
My Own Fight With The Food Police
For too many years now, I've been referred to as the Food Police. Unfortunately, this has come with the territory of my profession as a dietitian, but I wish it wasn't so. Because society had labeled me as the Food Police as early as my undergraduate days, I started to believe, to some extent, I was responsible for setting a "healthy" example for others (arrogant, I know, but it's the truth). People put me on the pedestal of "healthy example", and I started to let the Food Police set up HQ in my mind, too.
I didn't ever try any diets, but I certainly had a diet mentality. In my last IE&Me post, I talked about how I had stopped eating certain foods over the years because they were perceived as "bad" or "unhealthy". I also discussed how my doctor had become a Food Police deputy as well when he told me to eat better to improve certain blood values. All too soon I was hearing a common dialogue in my head about how I needed to be a good example for others, I was a dietetics student, and it was important for me to eat healthy because x, y, and z. After a while, this dialogue ran me ragged.
I got to the point where food thoughts were the majority of my thoughts. These food thoughts were regularly programmed messages by the Food Police designed to perpetuate diet culture and throw of my groove. You're not the only ones bothered by the Food Police, folks! The Food Police run diet culture—they're the law, after all! The question is, though, how can we shut those guys up?
Shut 'Em Up and SEnd 'em Packing!
The Food Police are nothing but trouble and are the source of food guilt and worry. The first step to shutting them up is to break the cycle. Whenever the Food Police bombard our thoughts with shoulds and shouldn'ts and cans and can'ts (distorted thoughts and rules), we've got to turn them around with more rational and helpful thoughts.
We start to turn unhelpful thoughts like "you can't eat carbs—you'll overeat them, and they'll make you fat!" into more helpful thoughts like "carbs are essential for my body to function—my body feels good when it's nourished". This is a way to speak truth to the Food Police. We can also utilize self-talk to give us permission for things like "I can eat whenever I'm hungry", "I can enjoy the special event in my here-and-now body—it's okay if I don't lose weight before the event", and "it's okay to eat foods I enjoy whenever I want—even if it's not a holiday or special occasion".
Another way to shut up the Food Police is to practice optimistic self-talk. Instead of saying things like "I'm such an idiot—I screwed up again!" or "I'm such a failure!" we can replace them with a good dose of optimism! One of my favorite phrases from Joyce Meyer is "I'm not where I want to be, but thank God I'm not where I used to be! I'm okay, and I'm on my way!" It's a way of acknowledging our imperfections (we're humans, after all!), but choosing optimism for our future!
I'm not where I want to be, but thank God I'm not where I used to be! I'm okay, and I'm on my way!
These are only a few examples of how to use positive self-talk to shut the Food Police up and send 'em packing. That challenge can be pretty tough—especially in the beginning! Think about it—you're probably pretty experienced in the negative self-talk department. If you've gone x number of years speaking negative self-talk every day multiple times a day to just now when you're striving to speak positive self-talk a few times a day, it can be daunting!
The good news? There is a great big selection of tools to use in this process, and you don't have to do it alone! In nutrition therapy, we'll work together to provide you with the tools to practice compassionate self-talk and challenge the Food Police! I've invested a lot of time and effort re-framing my own self-talk to be more positive and optimistic, and I respect the bravery it takes to do this work. It's not always easy, but I'll be darned if I'm going to give any more power to those guys! Are you ready to join me in the challenge and the send the Food Police packing?
*Client names have been changed so their true identities will not, in any way, be revealed, in order to maintain their anonymity.
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Hi there! I'm Sydney Cavero-Egúsquiza.
I'm a small town Oklahoma eating disorder dietitian with a passion for enjoying life. I love Disneyland, Smarties, and sharing time with family. My mission? To help individuals enjoy their lives and thrive by making peace with food and trusting their bodies!