Who is the “Food Police”? – Part 2 (July 2021)
You have heard questions and statements like these time and time again: “You’re eating what?” “How much are you eating?” “Don’t eat dessert unless you want to gain weight.” These words can run in a constant loop in our heads, like a tape recording. This “recording” is the food police, the critical voice we develop from years of dieting and food rules or from comments we’ve received from people in our lives at some point in the past. Whatever the origins, it’s time to say “good-bye” to the food police.
Our critical voices become louder and louder the more we diet, the more we read books about diets, the more we browse magazines that encourage dieting, the more we engage in diet talk with dieting friends and family members, and the more we follow social media—unless we prioritize non-diet social media profiles. Messages that feed the critical voice and the food police are everywhere, all the time—commercials, grocery stores, medical appointments, billboards. We literally can’t escape it.
In Chapter 9 of Intuitive Eating (fourth edition), the power of the food police is phrased beautifully: “We have become a nation riddled with guilt based on how we eat. Even non-dieters experience eating angst. In a random survey of 2,075 adults, 45 percent said they feel guilty after eating foods they like!”
When the food police is always on your mind, it’s difficult to enjoy eating. I hear clients obsess about how much, how little, when, and where they will eat. These thoughts can become all-consuming as fear, judgment and self-doubt rule what someone will and will not eat. Until you learn how to say good-bye to this critical voice, the food police becomes your shadow, judging every move you make.
One approach to quieting the critical voice and firing the food police is to create boundaries with friends, family and co-workers who are always commenting on their food. Some clients tell me that they will not eat with a specific person—and creating that boundary can be helpful—but when we have social gatherings that we are required to attend it can be helpful to have a boundary-setting conversation with triggering friends or family members in advance, as difficult as that may be.
Another approach is to write down what food rules you try to follow, along with where they originated. It’s helpful to understand the source of your rules and to write statements that are the opposite of your rules (even if you don’t believe them). For example, “When I hear the food police criticizing me for having a snack, I am proud that I am honoring what my body is telling me.” It’s important to understand that people who have “healthy” relationships with food eat whatever they want and whenever they want. There is no “right” or “wrong” way of being an intuitive eater.
When someone tells me that they have learned how to legalize all foods—and I see that fact reflected in their choices, language and approach—then adds that they must be doing it wrong, because their weight increased, I respond: “You are doing intuitive eating correctly.” When a client tells me they have legalized all food, and that can tell their weight has decreased because clothes are fitting differently, I respond: “You are doing intuitive eating correctly.” When someone says their body is the same, and they’ve legalized all foods, I respond: “You are doing intuitive eating correctly.” There is no right or wrong way to be an intuitive eater. Also, the thought of body changes will generally not occur to someone when they are learning how to develop their “soul self”—the person they were born as, until diet culture robbed them of their core beliefs around food and body.
The more that you talk back to the food police and challenge your food rules, the more likely that uncomfortable feelings and behaviors will arise. When you understand that these feelings and behaviors are normal and can experience your food from a place of curiosity and neutrality, you will then find you’re on the path to saying “good-bye” to the food police.
One last thought: this is not a quick fix. Like anything worth changing, firing the food police and quieting your critical voice, and challenge the beliefs you have developed takes diligence, hard work and going into your brave space.
Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, Intuitive Eating, Fourth Edition, St. Martin’s, 2020: 123-149.