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 career choice, that I’m the “food police.” You know, that person who 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.
Sure, health means free from disease, or a body that is managing a disease, but it’s more than that. Healthy people can competently deal with the stressors that impact their physical, mental, emotional and spiritual well-being. The food you choose cannot, alone, bring you health.
Whether your food police is an actual person or your “inner mean girl,” the only purpose is to pass judgment. When you place food into categories — good, bad, fattening, superfood, low-carb, etc. — it sets you up to pass judgment on those foods, which can cause a cascade effect. You relate the ingestion of “good” or “bad” food to a “good” or “bad” you. “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. If you choose “good” foods all day, every day, does that make you a better person, or does it leave you feeling restricted, stressed and obsessed? My (educated) guess is the latter. How is that healthy?
Let me make this perfectly clear. Food is not good. Food is not bad. Food is food. Food does not define your character and does not affect your self-worth or your morality. It’s time to leave food alone, and it’s time to leave yourself alone. Shame and guilt have never been effective motivators toward wellness, so cut yourself some slack.
The food rules you are born with — those internal cues of hunger and satiety —often are pushed so far down by external cues that we no longer hear them, or are afraid to listen to them. Instead of passing judgment, begin to practice curious observation, which allows you to look at what you eat with awareness of how you physically feel, 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 it 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 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 yourself or others, or begin to practice something new. Curiosity will let you base your food choices on internal cues like hunger and digestibility and 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.