Do you have a Food Police in your life? As a Registered Dietitian, friends, family, and even strangers comment on their food choices when I’m around. They assume, because of my knowledge and my career choice, that I am the Food Police. You know – that person that judges what others eat and deems their choices either “good” or “bad.” For a while, my standard line for people who explained their food choices to me was that I wasn’t the Food Police, but more of a Food Coach, empowering others to make choices based on their health. The problem with this is that people define the word, “health” differently than I do.
Health does not mean thin.
Health is not only limited to the physical body.
Sure, health means free from disease, or a body that is managing a disease, but it’s more than that. A healthy person is one who is able to competently deal with the stressors that impact our physical, mental, emotional and spiritual well-being. The food you choose cannot, alone, bring you health. And a Food Police won’t help you get there.
Whether your Food Police is an actual person or your Inner Mean Girl, the only purpose of a Food Police is to pass judgment. The question of whether or not a food is “good” or “bad” translates into whether or not you are good or bad. Who wants to be judged? If you choose “good” foods all day, every day, does that make you good, or does it leave you feeling restricted, stressed, and obsessed? My (educated) guess is the latter. How is that healthy?
When you place food into categories – good, bad, fattening, superfood, macros, etc – it sets you up to pass judgment on those foods. That judging causes a cascade effect, leading you to relate the ingestion of a “good” food to a “good” you. Conversely, if you eat a food deemed as bad, then that judgment leads you to think of yourself as bad.
“Oh I was so bad today; I had dessert. What a guilty pleasure!” Sound familiar?
Deeming food as a guilty pleasure denotes that it is something you should feel guilty about eating.
Let me make this perfectly clear: Food is not good. Food is not bad. Food is food. Eating such food does not define your character, does not affect your self-worth or your morality, and does not make you good or bad. And, the only time you should feel guilty about eating food is if you stole it, or stole the money to buy it. Otherwise, it’s time to leave food alone. And it’s time to leave yourself alone.
Shame and guilt have never been effective motivators towards wellness, so cut yourself some slack.
You don’t need a Food Police and neither does food. The Food Police is the internalization of external food rules. Those rules come from the diet culture; your body did not make those rules. The food rules you are born with – those internal cues of hunger and satiety – are often pushed so far down by the external cues that we no longer hear them, or are afraid to listen to them, lest the Food Police passes judgment that causes shame and guilt.
**insert deep breath here**
Instead of passing judgment, begin to practice curious observation. Curious observation allows you to look at what you eat with awareness of how you physically feel from food, rather than the emotional attachment that comes with judgment. When you eat, decide whether the food you choose energizes you or depletes you. Pay attention to whether the food fills you up and satisfies your hunger, or whether you need something else to reach satiety. Notice how long that satiety lasts before needing to eat again. Decide whether or not you choose a food because you enjoy eating it, or because you were told that it was “good” for you in some way. Then it’s up to you to decide if you will continue to listen to judgment passed by your Food Police and live with the shame and guilt it doles out on a constant basis. Or, you can become aware of your Inner Mean Girl voice (she wears many hats, including the Police one) and begin to practice something new. Curiosity will let you base your food choices on internal cues like hunger and digestibility, instead of basing them on external cues from the “should or shouldn’t” or the “good or bad” lists set up by the ($60 billion) diet industry.
Letting go of judgment and practicing curious observation will set you free from the burden of food rules. Isn’t it time you let yourself be, say “so long” to the Food Police and practice a kinder inner voice?
Do it. You are worth it.