Who is the food police?
The food police is a compilation of thoughts and messages that not only attempt to drive our food choices, but also, judge them. In its simplest form, the food police inflicts conflict upon our food decisions. There are two main types of food police: the external food police are various individuals who tell you what you “should” and “shouldn’t” eat. This might be a parent who comments on your meal or a teacher who shares their opinion about your mid-class snack. As a dietitian, I’ve had my fair share of skeptical dancers suspect that I might police their mealtime choices. But this couldn’t be any further from the truth! While I educate about nutrition, I don’t judge dancers for their food choices. In fact, I share tools (more on this below) to help dancers remove the judgment and self-doubt from their mealtimes.
The second type is fostered internally and involves a series of thoughts, emotions, and messages that live in your head only to emerge at meal and snack times. These messages are learned and often dictate what is supposedly “good” and “bad” for health and performance— ultimately, inflicting a wave of food guilt.
What’s so bad about a few rules?
Many of the messages that the food police shares are food rules. The confusing part is that as mentioned earlier, these opinions and rules are not always meant to cause harm. Let’s take a look at a few examples:
- Processed foods are bad!
- Eating too much red meat isn’t good for your heart.
- Candy will wreak havoc on your energy and blood sugar!
- Too much dessert will make you feel sick.
- Not eating enough produce is bad for health.
- Fast food is unhealthy.
- “Clean” options will always be your best choice.
And the list goes on! The wellness industry is a common reason for food rules to emerge. As with “clean” eating, a seemingly “healthy” habit can actually be a guise for a restrictive behavior. I’ve previously spoken about the importance of nutrient density and how it supports health and performance. But there is a difference between using nutrition as an educational tool to optimize your meals and using it as a divisive tool to spew judgment and self-doubt. The latter, of course, is when these rules become problematic.
How are dancers impacted by the food police?
Food guilt is one of the ways in which the food police can negatively impact dancers. It fuels a cycle that ultimately challenges a dancer’s ability to fuel themselves in a supportive way. The food police is also notorious for driving dancers further from their ability to build self-trust at mealtimes and competence around food decisions. The food police can also lead to overwhelming mealtime confusion, indecisiveness, and inflexibility. Every eating experience becomes riddled with “rights” and “wrongs.” For my fellow recovering perfectionists, this is a recipe for disordered eating.
The food police can also lead to overwhelming mealtime confusion, indecisiveness, and inflexibility. Every eating experience becomes riddled with “rights” and “wrongs.” For my fellow recovering perfectionists, this is a recipe for disordered eating.
How can dancers stand up to the food police?
#1: Identify without judgement
It’s important to understand that oftentimes, someone who is policing your food choices might not be doing so with ill-intent. For example, parents may be concerned over their dancers’ choices or overall nutritional adequacy. For those with a history of disordered eating, the supposed food police might be attempting to ensure that your meals and snacks are sufficient in calories. But regardless of intent, the food police manages to inflict self-doubt with judgment. As for our internal food police, realize that we’re not born with these judgements around food. They’re learned through years of diet- and wellness- culture messaging.
If you’re struggling with disordered eating and suspect that your food police (whether internal or external) is actually attempting to help you eat more sufficiently, then consider an open conservation. This is when support from a licensed professional— like a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist becomes helpful. Relying on a third-party resource to guide you and whoever it might be who is policing your choices can be more productive.
#2 Sharpen your food-neutral lens
Food neutrality is a critical tool within The Healthy Dancer® and it’s one I consistently cover. A food-neutral lens doesn’t disregard nutrition education, but rather, helps you to remove the judgment around your food choices— an especially helpful tool for challenging the internal food police. This also equips you to integrate gentle nutrition without obsessing (more on this here) and can even help to strengthen your confidence at mealtimes. The more confident you are, the more likely you are to challenge the food police in a productive—and not counterproductive (or judgmenta) way.
#3 Keep stretching your flexibility muscle
For many dancers, rigid structures (and rules) around food and mealtimes can be a source of comfort when the unknown feels less safe. But overwhelming inflexibility and rigidity impedes upon a dancer’s ability to move through the inevitable changes and curveballs of life. The Healthy Dancer® Food Flexibility Algorithm is a great resource to help you challenge rigid food rules.
#4 Try mindset shifts
The food police, especially when it’s internal, can lead us down a spiral of negative self-talk. Since maintaining a supportive relationship with food is anything but a straight road, emphasizing the process over the end result is essential. A few helpful mindset shifts (aside from building your food-neutral lens) like affirmations, the use of “yet” statements, and process thinking all help to shift our self-narrative. This ultimately builds resilience toward inevitable self-doubt. A few examples include:
- I’m not listening to fullness cues, yet. I’m working on it.
- My food choices don’t reflect my morality.
- This snack won’t support my energy… yet. I’m learning how to build a more balanced option.
- I ate past physical comfort, this is a normal experience. I am doing my best to honor and listen to fullness cues.
Process thinking is also helpful and focuses on the journey that you’re crafting in rebuilding your relationship with food. Recognize that when it comes to food, there is no right and wrong. Your journey won’t be a straight path- sometimes you might eat past physical comfort while other times you might be a rockstar at listening to fullness cues. Even for the seasoned Intuitive eater, the goal is never perfection. Challenging that inner voice or questioning an external source of ridicule will be a liberating step.