You’re walking along the aisles of your supermarket and stop upon what seems like an endless supply of bread. Without hesitation, you spot a darker loaf that reads “Made With Whole Grains and Seeds.” You skim the back label and add it to your bag. Within the same minute, you second-guess your choice for a more appealing fluffier “white” loaf but since you’ve read that fiber is “healthy,” you skip it and move on. Was your bread choice the right one?
If you’ve ever felt conflicted around your food choices, then it’s time we dissect the reasons behind them. By now, you’ve likely heard me suggest that it’s time to rid yourself of food rules. But what exactly does this mean?
Food rules are pre-conceived thoughts that stem from external sources of information. Whether you’ve learned that food “A” is healthy because of XYZ or you’ve been told that food “B” is unhealthy because of XYZ, you’re processing learned information prior to making a decision. This is not always a bag thing… unless your food rules are the ONLY reasons guiding your decisions around food. This is because most often, a food rule doesn’t usually consider your life’s or your body’s experiences. Experiences might involve previous memories, tastes, flavors, or physical feelings such as stomach discomfort or increased energy levels. In short: food rules are restrictive and they make eating not fun. A few examples of food rules include:
- I avoid white bread because it’s unhealthy.
- I do not eat past 8 pm because eating late is a bad habit.
- I order salads at restaurants because they’re lower in calories and therefore much better for me.
- I only eat dark chocolate because it’s much healthier than milk chocolate.
On the flip side are food choices, which stem from a multitude of reasons including past mental and physical experiences when eating. Instead of choosing the high fiber bread “because it’s healthier,” you might choose the option because it helps to keep your bowels moving and your energy levels sustained. Food choices are often based on preferences, whether that involves tastes, textures, aromas, satisfaction level, and so on. A few examples of food choices include:
- I choose the whole grain bread because it’s heartier and the fiber content sustains my energy throughout rehearsal.
- I aim to eat a snack that is higher in protein after dance class because it keeps me feeling satisfied until dinner.
- I opt for water throughout the day because I know that fruit juices will make me feel sluggish in the afternoon.
- I prefer dark chocolate because I enjoy the bitter flavor, but won’t pass on a freshly-baked chocolate chip cookie when it’s available!
One major characteristic that separates food rules from food choices is inflexibility. If the “right” options (or those that align with your food rules) are not available, then you’re left feeling guilty and anxious. This quickly turns an opportunity to fuel into a consuming and confusing experience.
But how can you start to shift away from making decisions based on food rules to making decisions based on food choices? First, you’ll need to ask yourself: “will I feel anxious if my safe foods are not available?” I talk more about “safe foods” in this blog post, so go check that out if you feel tunnel vision has you stuck in a food rut. And if you answered yes to that question above, then you’re ready to begin breaking those rules. Check out this blog post for a step-by-step approach to begin this work. You can also download this starter workbook, which will guide you further.