Sometimes people struggle with their healthy eating goals because they are unsure of what to eat. The most common culprit? Their food rules are getting in the way.
Food rules are beliefs about food that have accumulated over the years. These rules may come from family and friends, or because of diet culture. And there’s not a day that goes by that you aren’t subject to them, whether it’s self-imposed or from others.
FOOD RULES EXPLAINED
Some examples of food rules are:
- Don’t eat past 7pm.
- Clear your dinner plate.
- No snacking between meals.
- Only eat what you serve yourself.
- White foods are bad for you.
- Eat fruit, but not bananas.
- Avoid too much sugar.
Some of these rules may come from your childhood. Others are collected over the years, through following various “lifestyle” plans that often deem certain foods and nutrients as off-limits, such as carbs, fats, gluten, or dairy.
With all these rules, there aren’t many foods left to feel “safe” or “good” around. Here’s what you can do to start finding your way around healthy eating.
1. CHALLENGE YOUR FOOD RULES.
The first step towards change is to challenge these rules. Consider giving all foods a fair shot, allow yourself permission to eat all foods.
If all foods are fair game, you are able to plan meals that include so much more variety. Have toast for breakfast, rice with chicken for lunch, and cheese with those beans for dinner – everything is fair game. Plus, you can enjoy convenience when you need it. Don’t make frozen burritos or pizza a “forbidden food” when it can help you eat a meal without stress. You’ll find more ways to be flexible once you’ve let go of some of these rules.
2. GIVE YOURSELF UNCONDITIONAL PERMISSION TO EAT ALL FOODS.
Challenging food rules will look different for everyone so if the thought of eating some of these foods increases your anxiety, take it slow. For example, if the thought of eating pancakes makes you nervous, start by asking yourself what it is about pancakes that make you uneasy?
If it is a particular ingredient within the pancake (such as gluten), start with a pancake that’s made with an alternative ingredient and ease into it. When you are consciously breaking down some of the diet culture rules you’ve been taught, that’s when you can truly find food freedom and what works for your body.
3. CHALLENGE “ALL OR NOTHING” THINKING WITH COMPASSION.
When you set goals and intentions or are trying to make healthy changes, are you getting caught up in all-or-nothing thinking? An idea that you must be perfect every day, or otherwise, you’ve failed and an entire week is lost or ruined?
When you can work on challenging this way of thinking, you can actually start to have more consistency with your habits. Plus, having the inner dialogue of “I have failed” or “I have no willpower” is really not helpful for your mental health.
4. ADOPT MORE FLEXIBLE WAYS OF THINKING
Setting smaller goals and adding “for the most part” to your thought patterns can be helpful. Yes, making goals that are timely and attainable are important steps, but having some wiggle room is also just as good. Setting extreme goals – such as “I will never eat cake again” – is unreasonable and unrealistic.
For example, you’ve set a goal to start taking your lunch to work more often. Since you currently don’t take lunch to work at all, tell yourself that “I’ll pack my lunch, twice a week, for the most part”. Once you’ve done this consistently, set a new standard for the next week.
Practice these ways to release the rules and see if it makes a difference in your mindset to spark a little change.
Consider writing one way your life would be different by letting go of food “rules” and listening to your body’s wisdom instead.