Last week I had the flu.
I’ve been sick in recent years, but the last time I remember being THAT sick – fever for 7 days straight – was when I was a child and had chicken pox. I was delirious, weak, and had moments of “should I be in a hospital?”
Normally when I get sick, I focus on healing, nutritious foods. I believe in the healing power of nutrition. But this illness proved to be next-level. There was no way I was going to be able to stand in my kitchen and prepare myself anything, AND healthy food just did not sound good at all.
While this was happening, I noticed that the Food Police had decided to pop up in my head and weigh in on my decisions.
What is the Food Police, you ask? You’ve probably encountered this phenomenon yourself but just didn’t realize it.
The Food Police are the rules and regulations you have developed around food. You may have developed these rules from reading articles online, following a particular diet, watching tv shows based on diet culture, or even heard them from a trusted coach or a trainer. They may look like:
- Don’t eat anything after 7pm
- Sugar is the devil
- Carbs make you fat
- I’m good if I eat something healthy
- I’m bad if I eat something unhealthy
- I exercised so I “earned” this donut
These are just a few that I’m personally familiar with in my own head, but they are any beliefs that are based on external, arbitrary rules and not your own personal biofeedback (signals from your body).
So what’s wrong with having rules around food based on a diet plan or food theory?
Have you ever known someone to have a developed belief around something and no matter what evidence was staring them right in the face or how this belief was affecting them negatively, they refused to budge? The belief they developed becomes so indoctrinated that they ignore their own intuition or any negative consequences that result from this belief, refusing to question it even for a moment.
The problem when this belief is around food is that it takes YOU out of the equation. You’re no longer doing what is best for you and your body, but creating an anxiety and shame around food that doesn’t take you or your actual needs – both mental and physical – into account. This can and does lead to disordered eating patterns.
So when I heard the Food Police in my own head, it was because the only thing I could stomach for several days was cereal or greek yogurt with honey. I started hearing “Sugar feeds the infection! Sugar is terrible for your gut and your health!”
For a moment, this caused me to feel guilt and shame around what I was eating. The feeling was so strong that the first day, I actually drove myself to a restaurant with a high fever and feeling utterly delirious, picking up a dish my own Food Police deemed acceptable, and realized almost immediately how ridiculous this was. By the time I returned to bed, I was too exhausted from the outing to even eat the food!
Thank goodness I recognized what was going on and was able to spend the rest of the week perfectly ok with my best, which consisted of many bowls of cereal.
Here’s how I overcame my own Food Police and teach my clients to do the same:
I recognized and labeled the Food Police.
Awareness is everything when it comes to change and freeing yourself from food obsession and diet mindset. Just knowing what the Food Police sounds like, why it doesn’t benefit you, and how harmful it can be helps you rise above it and get in touch with your own intuition.
I find it helpful to label it – “Oh there’s the Food Police telling me I can’t eat sugar! Not helpful.” This takes the intensity and power away long enough for me to ask myself, “What is it exactly that I need that will benefit me on a big-picture level?” which brings me to…
I used big-picture thinking.
The problem with food rules/police thinking is that it gets hyper-focused on one aspect of our lives and bodies, without taking the whole picture into account. Sure in a perfect world, I would have had the exact healthy, nourishing food I needed and it would have been palatable. But that was not my reality.
When I looked at the big picture, my need to rest and not create stress over food was just as important, if not more important, than eating healthy food. My overall well-being benefitted more by me accepting cereal as a meal and not beating myself up or exhausting myself trying to eat something perfect.
You can apply this as a mom who might be thinking about losing pregnancy weight – what is the best for your entire well-being right now, not just for postpartum weight loss?
I recognized that guilt and shame have no place on my plate.
When I started to feel guilt and shame around food and acted irrationally in order to avoid them, this was a signal to me that something was off. Guilt and shame trigger disordered eating patterns – like the binge/restrict cycle, or hauling your delirious, flu-infested self to a restaurant for takeout – that keep us stuck and make us miserable and unhealthy both physically and mentally.
ACTION: This week, notice when you hear the Food Police pop up in your own life. What is it saying? What do you think you actually need if you take the big picture into account?
PS – I help women with issues like the food police every day in my 1:1 coaching program. Two of these amazing women are graduating this month. Both women came to me stuck in dieting mindsets and living in a constant state of worry around food and their bodies, and I’m happy to report that both of them are feeling free, confident, and have become self-care experts. If you need help and would like to apply for one of these openings, you can do that here.