To skeptics or to those unfamiliar, Intuitive Eating can sound counterproductive to the years or decades so many abide by when striving for health (i.e., dieting and “clean” eating). But building a supportive relationship with food involves unraveling many of the rules set forth by diet and wellness culture.
What are food rules?
Food rules encompass any definitive limit that you or someone else (maybe even a health professional) has placed upon a specific type of food, food group, or eating behavior. As a product of diet (and wellness) culture, food rules provide a sense of control that is otherwise fleeting. Food rules are often rigid, leading us to inflexible eating patterns. When we attempt to abide by food rules, we demolish self-trust.
A cycle ensues as food rules (always) eventually fail— so the desire to micromanage our food choices and ultimately, our bodies becomes more appetizing. The more we try to micromanage our food intake, the more we rely on external food rules to dictate what, how much, and when we eat— the more disconnected we feel from our bodies. Food rules can originate from many sources, including the media, friends, and family. A few common examples that I often hear from new clients include:
- I will not eat white bread.
- White potatoes are unhealthy, I can only eat sweet potatoes.
- I will not keep peanut butter in the house because I have no control and will eat the whole jar!
- Dark chocolate is the only type of chocolate I can eat because it’s healthy.
- I will not eat after 7 PM
Supporting a dancer’s food relationship
When we heal our relationships with food, we utilize unconditional permission to view food as a tool for self-care, not self-control. However, the idea of eating “all the foods” seems out of reach for many who have dieted in the past or partake in “clean” eating regimens. This is because the notion of eating without limitations feels scary when a severe level of distrust develops.
But here’s the thing… intuitive eating isn’t about opening the gates for “all the foods.” It’s about building habits that meet you where you are. There is no one-size-fits-all strategy for challenging food rules and while some dancers might be ready to rebuild trust with many foods, others are not yet ready to tackle this. And that is okay!
Challenging food rules without feeling overwhelmed
#1: Identify and Write Down Your Food Rules
Take a moment to consider any food-related rules that you follow. Perhaps you read online that white bread is “bad” or perhaps you swore to never touch “processed” sugar again. Can you identify a specific food that you avoid? Do you only eat cauliflower pizza as a means to dodge the real deal? Consider foods that you would love to eat, but feel that “once I start, I’ll never stop!” Here are a few helpful articles to unravel these myths:
- The truth about processed foods.
- Carbohydrates for dancers.
#2: Pick One Rule From Your List
Here’s where we challenge the misconception that I spoke about earlier. Instead of diving into this head first, let’s take it one step at a time. Choose just 1 food. Perhaps it’s a bag of chips that you cannot trust yourself it. Perhaps it’s a slice of pizza.
#3: Challenge Yourself
Now it’s time to eat your fear food— but there’s a caveat. We’re setting aside time for mindful eating techniques. This means eating without distraction. No phone, no computer, no TV. Just you, the table, and the food. Portion an amount that you feel might satisfy you (try not measuring the food precisely… this too takes some time to get accustomed to!) Consider the tastes, the aromas, and the textures. Does each bite live up to your expectation? If so, then continue eating and tune into your fullness cues. If not, then consider if this version of your food is worth the experience. Assessing your experience helps to reconnect you with your intention to eat the food until fullness and satisfaction. Meal planning may help this entire process, especially if you’re at risk for baseline under-fueling.