Food rules. We all have them, whether we know it or not, and I’m all about breaking them. After all, what are rules FOR if not breaking? (Says the girl who followed all the rules perfectly for most all of her life until one day she snapped and stole a pumpkin from a street market in NYC.)
What do I mean when I say food rules?
Food rules are the disembodied voice of “should” that lives in each of our heads. The voice that says we shouldn’t have ice cream for dinner. We should eat more vegetables. We should eat less of <insert thing> and more of <insert thing>.
The fascinating thing about food rules is that they, like most other societal rules, vary from culture to culture. Some extreme examples: raw horse is a perfectly acceptable entree in Italy. Cat is considered fair game in China.
A much more subtle example of food rules would be to compare two EXTREMELY contradictory dietary plans: veganism vs. the carnivore diet, for example. Or low carb vs. vegetarian.
If you don’t have ANY food rules, you are one lucky human. And… you’re probably lying to yourself. Because here’s the thing: some of these rules are so deeply seeded in our subconscious—formed in our youth before we had a filter/prefrontal cortex, and we accepted things as they were presented as “just the way things are”—that we aren’t even aware of them.
So today I want to share with you four ways to break free of food rules, especially when you don’t know you have them.
Acknowledge the thoughts, question them, and reconfigure them.
Okay, so I’ve already begun to break this one down. The MOST important part of breaking free of food rules is to recognize that you have them.
Grab a sheet of paper and begin to stream of consciousness write down any food rule that pops into your head. Here are a few common ones I’ve compiled through the years of doing this exercise in workshops and in programs:
Avoid the center aisles in the grocery store.
If it comes in a box and you can't see the food, don't eat it.
More veggies, a bit of fruit (not too much sugar!), and less processed junk.
Balance your blood sugar.
A healthy gut is the foundation.
Exercise daily to combat overeating.
More greens, less gluten!
Initiate Meatless Mondays
Drink more water
Eat healthy fats, avoid “bad” fats
Sugar is addictive!
Sweat is fat crying
Drink lots of water.
Low calorie/no calorie/fat-free
Calories Out > Calories In
Limit Added Sugars
You can’t out exercise a sh&$ diet
Don’t eat until noon (intermittent fasting)
Once you have your list of food rules written out, recognize whether it is a helpful thought or an unhelpful thought. Question it, and then rewrite the rule to become helpful. Here’s an example:
The Food Rule: I should eat more vegetables, a bit of fruit (not too much sugar!), and less processed junk.
Question it: Do I need to eat more vegetables? Is there too much sugar in fruit? I’m probably not eating that much fruit, and even if I am, is fruit sugar that bad? And is processed junk bad? How do I feel when I eat processed food, vegetables, and fruit?
Make it a helpful thought: Vegetables are a great addition to my plate, and I really enjoy eating broccoli, kale, cucumbers, carrots, Brussels sprouts… etc. I also really love eating fruit and am so lucky I can eat both. Actually, isn’t a cucumber a fruit? So that rule is nonsense! I enjoy processed foods, too, and if I make them taboo and off limits, then that’s probably ALL I’m going to want. I can eat whatever I want, actually. There’s no such thing as good or bad food. It has no moral value.
Bringing in the mantra of food sanity: I can have as much as I want of whatever I want as long as I’m fully present is REALLY helpful here. Usually, that’s where all my abandoned food rules end up.
A brief note on the mantra of food sanity: no one is fully present EVERY time they eat. That, in itself, is its own food rule. This is how intuitive eating can also become a way to control and institute perfectionism.
Begin to intentionally break the negotiable food rules, and see what happens.
You have full permission to break ALL the food rules. Even those that will make you sick. Listen, this is going to sound extreme, and of COURSE I’m not telling you to go eat foods you’re allergic to—but when we label foods as OFF LIMITS, we immediately go into scarcity mode.
When we’re operating from scarcity mode, we feel like victims. We feel bullied by life, and we tend to check out. We become frustrated, impatient, anxious, and overwhelmed, and we feel powerless. We focus on what’s not working, and we feel as though we have no choice.
I see this a lot when women come to me after being recommended a new food plan by a doctor. Suddenly they feel the scarcity, food confusion, and, sometimes, rules flipped!
When we open ourselves up to abundance mindset and recognize that we can actually have ANYTHING that we want, we realize we are in the driver’s seat. We are empowered and making choices that make us FEEL GOOD. We’re present, engaged, positive, and we feel this ability to perceive, listen, and notice how we feel.
You always have a choice. I’m asking you to move into a nonjudgemental approach to food. So have ice cream for dinner. Have a juicy hamburger every day if you want it.
Which leads us into…
Understand your unique bio-blueprint.
No one does well when they’re told what to do. We are grown ass women, and we do not need to be told what to eat and what not to eat. When rules are imposed on us by an outside force, one of two things tends to happen:
1. These rules were NOT wanted, so we want to rebel (and go immediately into scarcity mode).
2. We feel really safe because now we have constraints and don’t have to worry about trusting ourselves… but then eventually we rebel against the rules because we can’t be contained.
Either way you slice it, externally imposed rules are NOT going to work, longterm.
So, what does work? Understanding what foods make you feel fly based on internal cues. This is learning to listen to the unique language your body is speaking to you.
This could mean taking a food intolerance test. This could mean working with a doctor and/or coach. This is definitely something you should not embark on alone, however.
Here’s the thing about our brains: they are super powerful.
Our thoughts are forceful manipulators. We can have an opposite placebo effect reaction to certain foods. We can experience subtle symptoms we don’t recognize or no symptoms at all. Understanding your unique bio-blueprint could involve blood work, metabolic typing, Ayurvedic experts, Chinese medicine, energy healing, etc.
Again, there are no rules here. Embarking on a wild and free investigation of the self means learning to listen with both your head and your heart. Which sets us up perfectly for…
Take your yoga off the mat.
Yoga is so much more than a physical practice. When I talk about taking your yoga off the mat, I mean practicing the principles from the mat in your daily life.
Yoga means to unite body, mind, spirit, breath… all of it. Embodiment is moving from logical understanding to feeling it in your heart; knowing your own truth in your body.
That sounds SUPER woo woo, and I hear it even as I type it. So let me make this more practical:
How can you break a food rule if, #1 you aren’t aware of it (we knocked that out) and #2 you don’t even notice when it breezes through your mind. Part of a yoga practice is developing the muscle to watch your thoughts. We have SO many thoughts. In 2005, the National Science Foundation published an article regarding research about human thoughts per day. The average person has about 12,000 to 60,000 thoughts per day. Of those, 80% are negative and 95% are exactly the same repetitive thoughts as the day before.
These studies reveal that the quality of our existence rests on the quality of our internal and external communication. It also reveals how our bodies respond to the way we think, feel and act. This is often called the“mind-body-spirit connection.”
How are the 80% of the negative thoughts you’re having each day standing in the way of you learning to listen to YOUR unique body?
So there you go. Four ways to begin breaking free of food rules right now, today.
Which one are you going to implement first?