The Food Police or diet police is a term used in intuitive eating that refers to influences that try to enforce food rules and behaviours that originate in diet culture. These can be internal or external and are so important to identify to work on in eating disorders and disordered eating treatment. In this article we are going to look at where you may have come across the Food Police, some examples and how to go about getting rid of those food voices.
Who are your Food Police?
The internal Food Police are those voices or critics in your head that makes you view foods as “healthy” or “unhealthy”. This is the voice that tells you that certain foods are “bad” or that you should “be good” and skip the cake. Sometimes, this voice is so deep-rooted that you don’t even know it is there.
The external Food Police are other people or messages that convey dietary “advice” and commentary. These could be loved ones, your personal trainer, or social media. These can be made directly or indirectly to you. Think of direct phrases spoken to you such as “Don’t eat past 6pm” or “You really shouldn’t eat that because xxxx”. Then external influences might convey specific rules -“10 foods to avoid to lose weight” “you shouldn’t eat that” -or be more subtle.
What does it mean to to challenge the Food Police
Challenging these critics requires slightly different strategies depending on the scenario. Try challenging your internal food police by consciously correcting yourself when you hear it. Can you change your thoughts and change the narrative. Take a moment to listen to that internal voice in order to reframe your thoughts.
Start to question it. Why is a certain food bad? Who says so? Where does one food fit into the bigger picture of your week? Doing so can help you to rationalise these thoughts and understand where they’ve come from.
Once you have started to break these thoughts down, you can begin to reframe them. When you catch your inner Food Police making comments try to notice “that’s the Food Police talking”, thus separating the Food Police from yourself. Then, change the narrative. Here’s some examples:
- “This food is bad for me” reframe this to “not all foods are only beneficial for their nutrition, and that’s okay”
- “I’m being naughty having dessert” reframe this to “”I have unconditional permission to eat all foods”
- “This food has too many calories” reframe this to “this food will provide me with nourishment and energy”
- “I can’t control myself around chocolate” reframe this to “the less I restrict, the more comfortable I’ll feel around foods”
- “carbohydrates are bad” reframe this to “carbohydrates help to keep me satiated and satisfied until my next meal”
- “I ate so badly today” reframe this to “stressing about food is more unhealthy than what I eat”
Consistently working to reframe your thoughts can, over time, change how your thought patterns operate. This removes power from your Food Police. Eventually, those thoughts will become quieter, and speak up less often.
Dealing with the food police
To challenge the external food police, set boundaries around the people in your life. This can feel uncomfortable or even scary at first. However, by drawing a clear line in the sand, you make your position clear, and someone who respects you should adhere to these boundaries. (NB: If you are working on eating disorder recovery there is a time when you fully do need to listen to those around you who are providing care and helping you heal).
Here’s some examples you could try:
- “I’d prefer if we didn’t discuss food choices, it isn’t helpful for me”
- “Please don’t make comments on my body, even if it’s positively meant”
- “I’m not willing to discuss my diet”
- “That was a lovely meal but I do not want seconds. I’m going to listen to my internal cues”
- “I don’t want to talk about this right now, please respect that”
Other times, it might not be possible to set boundaries. In this case, you can try to change the subject and steer the conversation away. You can even literally remove yourself from the situation by leaving the room! These can also work as a back up if someone has ignored your boundaries about discussing topics.
Just like the internal, the more often you challenge the external Food Police and maintain those boundaries, the less power they’ll have.
The Food Police detox
The only detox I recommend! A social media detox can be a great way to get rid of unnecessary Food Police. As dieting messages can be snuck into social posts, have an audit of who you follow on your social channels. Influencers, fitness professionals, magazines and wellness brands can be common culprits. If anyone is creating posts that make you feel bad, unfollow! You can always refollow later. This can also apply to friends -if their posts make you feel bad, you don’t have to follow them either. If unfollowing feels too much, serval social media apps and websites will let you reduce how often someone appears in your feed without completely unfollowing.
Make Peace with Food
This is something to keep on and keep on working on by yourself but also checking in with a intuitive eating specialist. Here are some top tips on the process: Remember making peace with food means letting go of the diet mentality and embracing a more intuitive and balanced approach to eating.
- Reject Diet Culture: Throw out that idea that foods are good or bad. Instead keep telling yourself that all food is allowed, all food is good food and can be eaten in your diet. It’s more about moderation and balance and mindset! Recognize that the diet industry profits from creating and promoting unrealistic expectations around food and body size.
- Honor Your Hunger: Learn to listen to your body’s natural signals of hunger and fullness. This may mena starting with listening when your body says it is tired, needs the toilet or wants to move. If you can notice these signs you can than move to hunger, fullness and satisfaction in food. Don’t try to ignore or suppress your hunger, as this can lead to overeating and binging later.
- Practice Mindful Eating: Pay attention to the tastes, textures, and smells of the food you eat. Eat slowly and savor each bite when you can. For me, with a large family this isn’t possible at dinner, so instead I check in with a mouthful at the start, middle and end of my meal. Plan to avoid distractions such as watching TV or scrolling through your phone while eating.
- Give Yourself Permission: Allow yourself to enjoy all foods without guilt or shame. How can you build these into your weekly meal plan so you can really look forward to them, without guilt? This includes so-called “unhealthy” foods like desserts and fast food. Depriving yourself of these foods can actually lead to more cravings and overeating. Lots of self compassion, kindness and practice can be needed here.
- Cultivate Self-Compassion: Be kind and gentle with yourself when it comes to food and body image. Don’t compare yourself to others or judge yourself harshly. Remember that all bodies are different and there is no “perfect” body or way of eating.
Remember that making peace with food is a journey, not a destination. It takes time and effort to break free from diet culture and develop a healthy relationship with food, but the rewards are worth it. By embracing a more intuitive and balanced approach to eating, you can improve your physical and mental health, reduce stress, and enjoy food without guilt or shame.
We can’t always avoid the Food Police, but by employing tactics, you can reduce how loudly it speaks. Using these options will help to protect yourself
Did you find these techniques useful? You may also enjoy this post on positive affirmations for eating disorders.