Food rules is something that we have all experienced in some shape or form in our lives. This could be something simple as not being able to get down from the table until you had finished your meal, to something more sinister later on in life such as cutting out food groups.
We can unfortunately experience food rules without even realising we have them, such as not having takeaway more than a certain amount each month, with the reason that it is to save money when actually could be because it’s “unhealthy”. Or something simpler such as only being able to only have dessert a certain amount of times each week. These little rules can lead to anxiety if they are broken and can cause behaviours in order to counter this, the classic eating ‘healthier’ the next day or doing some extra cardio.
What are food rules?
While this has somewhat been answered, to put it simply food rules are habits that we create surrounding food to either help ease anxiety, or to improve our health. There are so many examples of food rules ranging from something we don’t eat in for simple reasons such as allergies, eating at certain times or to the extreme of cutting out whole food groups. Normally food rules are focused around losing weight and are a part of a restrictive diet, but can also be disguised as things that we don’t like, or because we think it makes us feel better when in reality it’s anxiety that is making us feel so bad. The reason that these are so hard to break is because these are habits and thought patterns/beliefs that we have unconsciously created and now we are having to rewire our brain to believe the opposite. Not the easiest of tasks but it can be done!
So why do we create food rules?
Food rules can be created for a variety of reasons; to help reduce anxiety around food, following patterns that were taught to us as a child, or even picking up ‘healthy eating’ tips from the latest diet trend. All in all food rules are seemingly harmless things that we do to try and do what's best for our health but can lead to greater distress and possibly lead to disordered eating.
Are all food rules bad?
The simple answer to this is it depends! There are some ‘rules’ that people may follow, such as having a source of protein, carbohydrate and fat with each of their meals or making sure that they eat at regular intervals. The difference between these and detrimental food rules is that these are more like suggestions. Ideally these are things that they would want to stick to as it makes them feel good but it is a choice that they make and feel little to no stress in regards to them.
How do I know if I have food rules?
The best way to figure out if you have any food rules is to write it down. Create a list of things that you do when you eat or start to think about eating. Do you drink 2 glasses of water to make sure you are hungry? Or do you have to make sure you are eating at set times? Number them on a scale of 1-5 with 1 being the least anxiety inducing to 5 the most.
How do I tackle food rules?
The best way to tackle food rules is to break them! Starting slowly and with the least anxiety inducing ones first, start to do the opposite of what the rule says. For example if one of your rules is to not cook with oil or to only use a low calorie option then try cooking one meal with a good quality oil. Once you have broken the rule, sit with your feelings and try to see what thoughts come up and why you might think this may be. But the best way to beat a food rule is by continually trying to break it, understanding why or how the rule came about in the first place and reminding yourself that you are capable of beating them.
4 Things to remember when un-learning food rules
1- It will feel unnatural
You will be going against years worth of conditioning and habits! It is going to feel very uncomfortable and difficult but it will be worth it in the long run!
2- It’s okay if you have uncomfortable thoughts
Your brain will be telling you to anything it can to get back to the status quo! This is completely normal, after all we are creatures of habits and changing them is hard work
3- Get support
Support will be the number one thing if you truly want to beat these food rules. Look for a nutritionist who specialises in disordered eating who can help you get down to the core reasons as to why you think that way.
4- It will take longer than you think
This won't be an easy task! You will feel the need to give up and to carry on the way you did before because it is so easy even if you feel stressed about food. The whole point is to make sure that we can make conscious decisions about what we want to eat and honour our bodies at the same time!
How to get support
Scarlet is a registered associate nutritionist, who specialises in body image and disordered eating with a weight inclusive approach. She is passionate about helping people fall back in love with food and themselves and working together as a team to do so. Contact us or book online to request her expertise.