March 19, 2019 | Lex Daddio
You may be thinking, “what the heck is the food police?” The Intuitive Eating book describes it as, “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.” (pg. 94) Does this sound familiar? Do you have thoughts in your head and negative voices telling you what to eat, when to eat, how much to eat, and also judging you for everything you put into your mouth. It’s not just you, friend, that’s what they call the food police and it typically stems from diet culture. From things diets have told to you, to things people have told you, things magazines have told you, etc. It can be hard to know what things are even true and what things have just come from diet culture.
Think about all the commercials, ads, and brands out there telling you that certain foods are “bad”, “illegal”, “guilty”, etc. The list goes on and on. From low carb, to low fat, to low sugar, to low or high everything. It’s exhausting, isn’t it? When did food become such a science instead of just eating real whole foods and enjoying what we’re eating? Our culture is diet obsessed and yet we are the most concerned with out physique, food, etc, and is it really making you happier? Think about that one long and hard.
Food doesn’t have to be a constant battle of good or bad. It can just be a pleasurable experience that’s apart of your everyday. It doesn’t have to consume you, control you, or define you. There are multiple different food voices that can be speaking to you and guiding your eating everyday that are destructive and they are: The Food Police, The Nutrition Informant, The Diet Rebel.
Let’s start with defining the Food Police a little more. Basically it’s your inner voice/ judge telling you that you are either “good” or “bad” depending on your food choices. Even if you aren’t dieting, your food police can still be strong from past diets, magazines, messages, etc. Some common rules people follow:
Don’t eat past a certain time at night.
Bagels are fattening and have too many carbs.
If you don’t exercise, you don’t deserve to eat a certain meal or snack even if you’re hungry.
It’s not a certain time of day, so you aren’t allowed to eat a snack.
There are plenty of others, but have you ever thought of why these are rules? Who told you them or where they came from? This is what will keep you in constant battle with your body. Instead of working with your body, you’re constantly fighting against it. Your relationship with food can’t flourish because this voice is judging every eating experience you have.
The next voice is called The Nutrition Informant. This one can be tricky and sneaky, because it can convince you that it’s all about being healthy and taking care of yourself. It’s main goal is to provide nutrition information to keep you in your dieting pattern. For example: counting macros, tracking calories, eating fat-free foods, etc. This is where people find themselves sometimes after they’ve finally let go of dieting and found themselves in a place where they feel ready to eat “healthfully” or nutrient dense food again. Instead of doing it without an agenda, they tend to follow this with a plan to keep their weight down. “It’s not that nutrition is not important, but rather that it can be self-defeating in the beginning stages of Intuitive Eating. Remember we are nutritionists, and we honor health.”, says the authors of Intuitive Eating. (pg. 101) This voice can actually help eventually about become an ally for you, helping you make healthy food choices without guilt when you’re ready.
The next one is the Diet Rebel. This voice is loud! It’s angry and determined and basically goes to prove people wrong. Some examples, “I can’t wait until my husband goes out of town so I can eat whatever I want, without his chastising glares.” or “You’re not going to get me to eat that plain broiled chicken”. It typically results in overeating or self-sabotage because you’re tired and frustrated. When the diet rebel becomes a diet ally, it can actually help you to protect your food boundaries. What I mean when I say this, is it helps you use your words to protect yourself from others judgment. For example, you can ask your family members not to judge your food choices or make comments about your body if this is something you deal with. Not everyone will understand what you’re doing with Intuitive Eating, but once they see how free you are, they’ll change their minds. Or at least we hope!
Then, there are different inner voice that can actually be helpful for you and to get your through hard times and make your eating more comfortable. They are: the Food Anthropologist, the Nurturer, and the Intuitive Eater.
The Food Anthropologist is a voice that describes neutral observations without making judgment. It notices when you’re hungry or full, what you ate, when you ate it, and what you were thinking. The benefit of this voice is that only you can know how you feel and what you think and what feels good for you. It can help you to understand why you’re feeling a certain way or why you are craving a cupcake, and all without judgment. Maybe you had a hard day and you want something sweet and exciting and a cupcake sounds like it’ll fix that. That’s not a bad thing as long as you’re eating it mindfully and enjoying it rather than eating it with judgment and guilt. It basically helps you recognize eating patterns without the judgment behind it.
The Nurturer is a soft and gentle that’s similar to your best friend talking to you. It reassures you that everything is okay and is going to be fine. It doesn’t judge or criticize. Some examples are “It’s okay to have a cookie. Eating a cookie is normal.”, “When I take care of myself, I feel great.”, and “I really overate today. I wonder what I was feeling that could have made me need more food to comfort myself today?” (pg. 104)
The Intuitive Eater is the voice you were born with. It gets jaded and confused as we get older and exposed to so much diet culture and information around us. It’s your true gut reactions and it gives you information about your eating that honestly only you can know. It helps you to make decisions for yourself, because nobody else can make them for you. “When you have reached the last stages of your path to Intuitive Eating, the Intuitive Eater, rather than the dieter, will prevail most of the time. But there will be times when you find that you’ll need to evoke one or all of the positive eating voices to help you get centered and in touch with your Intuitive Eater once again. There are no rigid rules in this process. 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. 106)
So if you’re catching on at this point, a lot of this is honestly an internal battle, which is why it’s so important to renew your mind. You truly have to reframe your thoughts, and it’s constant at the beginning. You have to take a negative thought and make it positive. It sounds exhausting and honestly it can be, but it won’t last forever. Eventually your thoughts will have shifted and you won’t have to put much thought into them anymore. But the beginning is pretty constant. There are actually five ways of thinking that are negative self-talk based and lead to irrational and distorted thinking. The five ways are:
Dichotomous thinking- Also known as all-or-nothing or black or white thinking. Basically you set your bar so high that this ideal you’re chasing is hard to grasp and you pretty much set yourself up for failure. So when you “fail” you feel upset and frustrated and when you feel this way you typically are bound to end up going off the deep end in your behavior. For example, you either eating no ice cream or all the ice cream.
Absolutist thinking- When you believe one behavior will absolutely lead to another. For example, you believe that if you eat “perfectly” over the next month, then you’ll lose 10 pounds and be happy. Not true. How do you know it takes a month, that eating perfectly will do this, and that you’ll be happy? You don’t.
Catastrophic thinking- This kind of thinking is super exaggerated and leads to serious negative thinking. It’s when you think thoughts like, “I’ll never be thin.”, “I’ll never get a boyfriend or a job at this weight.”, or “If I let myself eat candy bars and fries, I’ll eat them forever.” (pg. 117). These are all a real setup and super negative ways to live your life. It’s also a way that your happiness is based completely on your body and eating, which is no way to live.
Pessimistic thinking- You see everything in the worst-case scenario, or your cup is half empty. It usually leads to feeling super negative about your life. About never having enough, doing enough, being enough, and everything feeling hopeless.
Linear thinking- This kind of thinking goes right in line with dieting. Basically you follow a specific plan that doesn’t allow any deviations and if you go off the path, you fail. It tends to make you so focused on the end goal that you miss the scenery on your way.
So instead of thinking in these negative ways, you have to replace them with positive talk and rational thinking. For example, instead of being so black or white with your thinking (or all-or-nothing), try living in the gray. Remember to not be so extreme and instead try to find accurate, non exaggerated thoughts. More positive thinking also comes in the form of “the cup is half full” so finding your best-case scenario in a situation. The last way is having more of a process thinking, like focusing on change and learning through the process rather than the end goal. Hopefully all of these make sense, but it’s just so important to shift and renew your thoughts!
Start paying attention to these thoughts that show up in your head while you’re eating. Next time you find yourself eating in an uncomfortable way, check in with yourself and try to see what you were thinking before eating. You’ll soon be able to links these feelings so you can reframe these thoughts. “Banish the Food Police that keep you from making your peace with food. Challenge the pseudo-nutrition thoughts that come from the Nutrition Informant. Observe your eating through the eyes and voice of your Food Anthropologist and allow it to guide you sensibly. Speak out loud the thoughts of your Rebel Ally so you don’t use food to take care of you. The real protection will come from your Nurturer who knows just how to soothe you and get you through tough situations. And, finally, become acutely sensitive to the positive voices that comprise your Intuitive Eater. It was there when you were born. Discard the layers of negative voices that have buried it so deeply that it seemed lost forever. By listening to its instinctual signals, you’ll have the opportunity to form a healthy relationship with food.” (pg. 120)
Tribole, E. and E. Resch. 2012. Intuitive Eating, 3rd edition. St. Martin’s Press, NY:NY.