My intern, Ally, is taking over my blog to bring you a 10-part Mini training teaching you about the ten principles of Intuitive Eating. Each week, a new blogpost will go live summarizing the key elements of the principle while also giving you actionable steps to bring the principle into your life. Ally’s written a few posts in this series, including Principle 1: Reject the Diet Mentality,  Principle 2: Honor Your Hunger, and Principle 3: Make Peace with Food. If you haven’t already, make sure to check out those posts to get up to speed!

This week, Ally is teaching you all about Principle 4: Challenge the Food Police. To make sure you don’t miss any posts from this series, click here to subscribe to my weekly newsletter.  

Take it away, Ally!

I’m sure that you’ve heard it all:

  • “I’ve been so bad today!” 
  • “I guess that today’s a cheat day!”
  • “You’re really going to eat that?”

Principle 4 of Intuitive Eating, Challenge the Food Police, is all about recognizing and questioning the validity of diet culture rules that pop up in our internal dialogue and everyday experiences. The food police are the guilt-ridden voices in your head that tell you you’re “bad” for eating ice cream or “good” for meeting your calorie goal. With this constant voice placing guilt and shame around the experience of eating, neutralizing food can become incredibly challenging (see last week’s article for more about removing the labels of “good” v.s. “bad” foods).

The diet culture we live in exposes us to all these different ideas about the right and wrong way to eat. Over time, we internalize these ideas ansd create our own innter “policing” system based on all the rules we’ve picked up on over the years. These internalized rules can come from endless manifestations of diet culture messaging; What I Eat in a Day videos on social media, ads on TV, suggestions from parents, comments from friends, etc. These rules and restrictions you’ve adopted from diet culture can take years to unravel and unlearn. In this blog post, I’m covering how you can recognize, name, and learn to reject or harness various food voices to help on your Intuitive Eating journey. 

There are 5 food voices that can help or harm us, including:

  1. Food Police– this voice is entirely unhelpful. It causes us to feel guilty and worry about food, and it keeps us stuck in the depths of diet culture. These can be internal voices from self-imposed diet culture rules or external commentary that creates judgment.
  2. Nutrition Informant– while this voice can help us once we’ve become intuitive eaters, it’s often more harmful than helpful at first. This voice uses nutrition as a vehicle to keep you dieting, and it may take on the sneaky name of “health” or “wellness.” Once you’ve made peace with food, then this voice can become the nutrition ally to help you make satisfying food choices without guilt or deprivation.
  3. Diet Rebel- there’s also room for this voice to harm or help you. While this voice usually results in out of control eating and self-sabotaging out of defiance and hatred towards dieting, it can also become the rebel ally, meaning that this can be the voice you use to set boundaries about food talk with yourself and others.
  4. Food Anthropologist– this voice helps you tap into your attunement and neutrally observe your eating experience. As a neutral observer, this voice remains judgment-free and keeps you in touch with your inner biological and psychological signals.
  5. Nurturer– this voice helps you to compassionately recognize and break down verbal assault from the food police. This can be a tool to get you through challenging moments and treat yourself with more kindness.

First, start by recognizing negative voices and naming them. From here, you can learn to separate yourself from them, which creates new neural pathways. It can be helpful to start with the voice of the food anthropologist, which trades harsh criticism for a neutral observation of your eating experience. After tapping into your attunement with the voice of the food anthropologist, you can work towards adopting positive voices, such as the nurturer. Allow yourself flexibility, instead of rigidity. For example, using statements such as:

“I can eat whenever I feel like it. If I want, I can eat whatever foods I like. I may have anything that looks good to me.” (pg 145 Intuitive Eating).

Another useful piece of advice here is switching to process thinking, meaning that you’re focused on continuing to learn and evolve as an intuitive eater. As you relearn to honor your hunger cues and listen to your body’s signals, focus on the positives from this experience. Although you may have a rough week or day where it’s challenging to tap into your intuition, you’re still learning valuable information about yourself through this process. When you start to become aware of the positive inner voices that pop up, you can cultivate more of these positive voices, in turn helping you along your intuitive eating journey.

Let’s take an example from my own life. Over the past few years, in particular, I can recall several instances in which my peers would brag about not eating or eating less than others. Commonly, a friend would say something like “all I had for lunch today was an iced coffee.” This would send me into a spiral of questions- am I bad for eating lunch? Why did I feel hungry? Should I skip lunch too? In this case, comments from a friend were activating my inner food police, fueling my internal dialogue about what I “should” eat. Because of this critical, harsh voice, I was stuck either feeling guilty for eating lunch or obsessing over food because I ignored my hunger cues.

In this situation, the food police is asserting that eating less makes you a praise-worthy, virtuous person. The truth is: what/how much you eat is entirely unrelated to your moral worth. Consider your loved ones- do you love them because of what size their body is? Do you value them because of what they chose for lunch today? No! The voices of the food police convince us to internalize negative comments and doubt our intuition.

“We have become a nation riddled with guilt based on how we eat… in a random survey of 2,075 adults, 45% said they feel guilty after eating foods they like.” (page 123 of Intuitive Eating)

This means that almost half of all adults felt shame for eating their favorite foods! Somehow, our society has taught us that food is something to feel guilty about. Let’s say that you love bagels with cream cheese, but years of diet culture messaging have taught you that this is a “bad” food. After taking one bite of your bagel, you’ll likely feel a pang of guilt. This spirals into an unbearable mountain of guilt, initiating feelings of diet failure (spoiler alert: diet success doesn’t exist). 

In this scenario, where diet culture makes you feel as though you’ve “failed,” you’re sent back into this binge-restrict cycle which allows the harmful voices of the food police to shout even louder. Learning how to decipher and challenge food voices is a necessary step as you work towards reclaiming peace with food and becoming an intuitive eater.

“Diets are rigid- Intuitive Eating is fluid and adapts to the many changes in your life. Go with the flow without trying to control it.” (pg 135 of Intuitive Eating)

Diets have rules about what foods you’re allowed to eat, when you’re allowed to eat, and how much you can have.  As an intuitive eater, you can honor your gut reactions without guilt or shame.

For example, picture that you feel your stomach growling an hour before your typical dinner time. While the food police may tell you that you’re not “allowed” to feel hungry yet, the food anthropologist would approach this hunger from a neutral place without judgment. From here, the voice of the nurturer can help you compassionately recognize which thoughts are serving you. While a dieter might listen to the food police and ignore their hunger cues, an intuitive eater would just eat a snack or have an early dinner and move on without guilt.

As long as diet culture exists in our society, the food police will always exist- negative messaging will always appear in the media we consume and the experiences we engage in. Intuitive eaters are equipped with the tools to draw from positive food voices and silence the negative ones. The goal here is to come back to a place where you can honor your biological signals, replace rules with compassion, and realize that there’s no good or bad way of eating.

Did you hear the news? We launched a podcast here at Leah Kern Nutrition! Shoulders Down Podcast is a podcast designed to teach you how to harness your intuition to govern not just how you eat but also how you live. New episodes get released every Tuesday!  Click here to listen to our latest episode with Megan Luybli, a fellow Intuitive Eating Counselor who talks about slow living, weight stigma in healthcare, and health at every size.

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