Updated: May 30, 2022
Dana Eshelman, MS, RDN
Food rules have crept in over the years based on fad diets and trends, friends and family and diet culture. They are the noise of the food world, as I call it. We are all subject to food rules whether it is self imposed or you are influenced by others.
Examples of food rules:
Limit fruit intake (especially those bananas)
Only eat what you serve yourself (aka no seconds)
White foods are “bad” for you
Do no snack between your meals
Finish all of what is on your dinner plate
No eating past 6pm
These rules may stem from when you were a kiddo, they may come from various diets that deem certain foods as “bad” or “off limits” without any true allergy/intolerance (ie. gluten, dairy, fats, carbs), or they may develop based on some bogus celebrity diet.
With these rules, foods get labeled as “good” or “bad” and we create a very rigid way of thinking about nutrition. This ruins our relationship with foods and forces us to ditch our inborn ability to eat intuitively.
Here are some steps you can take to challenge those food rules, develop a healthy relationship with food, regain confidence in yourself and lead a lifestyle that fosters health and longevity.
Challenge Those Food Rules
Those rules we talked about above, challenge those! This will look different for each individual based on the rules that exist in your life.
But, by challenging these rules you are freeing yourself to include a variety of foods in your nutrition plan. With this, meal planning becomes easier, you are able to eat the same menu items as your family/ loved ones without restriction, you can enjoy convenience foods when needed (we all get busy)... see how fluid that sounds!
Permission to Eat All Foods
Give all foods a fair shot. Meaning, all foods fit into your nutrition plan. You have permission to eat all the foods. Yup, desserts included.
Now, this may seem overwhelming at first, so there is no need to dive in head first. You may want to start with what is called a food bridge. For example, if you fear eating pasta ask yourself what makes you fear that food. If you are fearing the carbohydrates, then perhaps start with a bean pasta to ease into the introduction of pasta. This will allow you to start to break down those food rules and truly find peace with food.
Show Compassion With the “All or Nothing” Mentality
We have all been there. It is either 100% or 0%. You either have a perfect day or you fail. What if you allowed yourself some compassion. Some grace.
Rather, ask yourself what you did WELL in the day or week. Talking down on yourself makes it difficult to adopt new habits and is not a productive way to establish a positive relationship with yourself.
Use “CHOOSE” Verbiage
Oftentimes we look back on the day saying, “I should have ___” or “I should not have ___.” By switching the verbiage to “I choose ___” or “I chose ___” we empower ourselves to make decisions rather than talking down to ourselves. We choose to live in a forward motion, rather than regretting past actions or decisions.
Adopt a Flexible Way of Thinking
Developing flexibility in your nutrition plan and thinking will help avoid the extremes of “good” and “bad” or the “I never will eat ___ again.” Allowing for wiggle room in your nutrition peels back those food rules and creates a realistic, sustainable nutrition approach you can stick with for life!
Practice these ways to release food rules.
See what happens to your mindset around food.
See what you notice in the relationships in your life.
See how the image of yourself changes.
See what happens with the time management in your day.
Try This At Home
Write down one way your life would change if you let go of the food rules in your life. Think about your relationships with family, friends, co-workers. Consider your image and love of yourself. What would happen if you began listening to your body instead?
This used to be my big "NO." Peanut butter had too much fat. Bread, forget it! As a child, peanut butter toast was one of my favorite snacks. Suddenly as an adult, this food became forbidden. In fact, it made me feel guilty and disappointed when eating it.
I challenged myself consistently to include both peanut butter and toast into my nutrition. This is now my pre-long workout fuel and I LOVE IT!