Let’s talk about why you may find it hard to just eat f*cking food in peace.
Enter… the FOOD POLICE.
Who the f*ck are the food police?
Basically, the oppressive voices in your head and in real life that judge, blame, shame, and guilt your food choices. They say things like:
- You shouldn’t eat after 7pm
- If you’re hungry, chew gum or drink water
- Butter is bad for you
- Avocados are bad for you
- Do you really need a 2nd serving?
- You shouldn’t be eating ice cream, it’s too fattening!
- You’re bad for eating pizza.
- Make sure you only eat ____ calories today!
- You’re gonna have to workout for ___ hours if you eat that!
*Although everyone is affected by the food police, those who live in larger bodies are disproportionately affected by the food police due to the severely fat phobic (fat-fearing) society we live in and the fact that it’s somehow acceptable to comment on other people’s food choices and bodies, ESPECIALLY for larger bodies.*
Your food police may be made up of a collective voice from parents, bullies in school, social media influencers, significant others (hopefully exes!), teachers, doctors/healthcare providers, friends and of course – the biggest food police of all – our patriarchal, oppressive society which tries at every possible chance to get *women specifically* to eat as little as possible, stay as hungry as possible, be as small as possible, and trust themselves as little as possible – starting with food. (End rant… Well, kind of, not really…)
Some food policers just have the literal worst intentions (like bullies, misogynists, etc.) while others may think they are acting or speaking out of love and “care” (like your parents or friends). No matter their intentions, the effects are the same: food policing causes harm.
When you are working on developing a neutral, peaceful, healthy relationship with food, the food police are a barrier. They are the voices in your head (or actual voices in your ear) that criticize, judge, shame or offer their unsolicited advice on your eating, movement or healthcare decisions. Based on where your personal food police come from and how long they’ve taken up residence in your life, it may be more or less difficult to reject and silence them, especially in cases where you are trying to maintain a relationship with that person acting as the food police.
Why is it generally culturally acceptable to comment on other peoples’ food choices or their bodies?
This is the society we live in. This is diet culture. This is a health and wellness industry that has been co-opted by the thin ideal and extreme fatphobia, for its own profit and to our detriment. Isn’t it absolutely bonkers that it’s normal, natural and common to make a comment about what is on someone else’s plate or the size of their body? I mean IN WHAT WORLD is it someone else’s business?!
Here’s a blog post on how to respond to food and body comments that may be helpful in planning your responses to the human food police in your real life. I know it’s hard but one step towards making peace with food is setting boundaries to let people know that it will never be appropriate, healthy or helpful for them to make such comments at any time. Once we hear a comment from someone else, we internalize it and whether we want it to or not, it begins to affect how we think about food or our body, how we make decisions, and how we feel about the decisions we do make.
Of course, as mentioned in our list of possible food police culprits, I also mentioned our own self-talk. I wrote an Instagram post a few weeks ago that said:
Lemme elaborate… Yes, peoples’ past comments may contribute to your ongoing self-talk, AND if you have spent a significant amount of time studying diets, learning nutrition facts labels, obsessing over calories, and micromanaging your food, then your own knowledge and judgements may also make up the food police force in your own head.
But we weren’t born with negative self-talk and a shitty mistrusting food relationship, we learned it. And typically the more marginalized someone is, the worse our diet culture’s shame and guilt-inducing intrusion is. I love coming back to this quote from Kelly Diels,
“Culture shapes us but we can shape it back. We have the power to determine what our culture ends up being.”
So WTF do we do if these thoughts are making our food decisions for us? First, let’s discuss the fuel for the food police, then how we tell the difference between a helpful and harmful food-related thought, and how we can turn down, and eventually mute, the harmful ones.
Why do we let the food police rent space in our head and how do we get them the f*ck out?
Often, food police thoughts remain because we have been convinced (by diet culture) that we can’t trust ourselves with food. When we don’t have trust in ourselves, we look to the food police for guidance. Every subtle feeling of distrusting your own body tempts you to look outward for external cues and signs of how to make food decisions.
This can bring up years of past dieting, years worth of comments from external food police, and echoes from all the time the food police has already lived inside your head. But as you become increasingly more confident about what it really means to care for yourself, to care for your body, and to accept and respect the body that results from this healthy self-care, you can begin rejecting the voices of the food police and standing more strongly in your own truth, your own body trust.
If the fuel for the food police is insecurity about our decisions and an absence of full self-trust, then the solutions include:
- Strengthening our commitment to body respect
- Heaping on lots of grace and self-compassion
- Practicing self-trust, listening to and honoring your body’s internal cues
- Diving into more learning about the science and evidence behind the weight-neutral approach to health
- Building a trusted team of people- both personal and professional- that reinforce your own self-trust and encourage complete, autonomous respect and care for your body
Action steps- how do we quiet the food police?
We are better able to challenge and let go of the food police when we are MORE sure of ourselves in our own relationship with food. In order to trust our own bodies, we can’t keep giving into the food police.
When a food police thought (from in your head) or statement (from a person) comes up, try this…
“I notice I’m having the thought/someone is telling me that_______(butter is bad for me, I shouldn’t add sugar to my coffee, I should probably order salad as my side, etc)
(just adding I NOTICE I’M HAVING THE THOUGHT THAT_____) puts space between you and the thought>)
and then ask,
“Is acting on this thought/suggestion helping me get closer to the type of life I want to live, a life that is in line with my true values and encourages complete body respect?”
If your answer is yes, then cool. Make that choice and feel good about it because it’s in line with what matters to YOU (not “them”), and then move on.
For example, you might remember that based on your past eating experiences, you know that when you eat ___ you often get an upset stomach or feel especially gassy. You can choose to listen to that thought/suggestion in a way that supports your health and how you’d like to feel.
If your answer is no (aka, the thought is not helpful), then ask what your healthiest self would say in that moment. Maybe your healthiest self, one who is completely at peace with food and with her own body, might respond with:
“I can eat butter, it’s just another food, no better or worse than other foods.”
“I prefer my coffee with cream and sugar, it’s such a lovely start to my day.”
“A salad just doesn’t sound good to me right now, but that crispy potato side dish sounds like it will hit the spot!”
And then you act according to how your ideal/healthiest self would act. You eat the food. You take the rest day. You go back for seconds or thirds.
This whole process turns DOWN the noise from the food police (other people’s opinions, diet culture, etc.) and turns UP the wisdom from your true, healthy self, which is exactly what we want.
*Typically, severe restriction/cutting out entire food groups/starving yourself, etc. is LIKELY not going to lead to the life you want to live and is not healthy nor recommended. If you are noticing yourself gravitating towards those decisions often, I definitely suggest getting more support in the form of a dietitian trained in disordered eating and eating disorders along with a therapist.*
I want to take a quick moment to pause on the concept of “nutrition.” The reason that unconditional permission to eat any and all foods can be a part of a healthy lifestyle is that nutrition and your health never come down to just ONE food, ingredient, meal, etc. It is not black and white, but living in the gray area can be extremely difficult because it feels confusing. How do we incorporate any nutrition information at all without it becoming a diet, a rule or a stressor?
I wrote extensively about this in my blog post on How to Practice Gentle Nutrition, where there is a ton of helpful information plus many suggestions for putting it into practice. The bottom line, though, is that if you’re still stressed or worried about nutrition, then it’s not yet time to talk about nutrition. Once you’ve reached a place of peace and neutrality with food and you are no longer fighting every day against your old diet habits (or your food police thoughts!) then you can begin to incorporate gentle nutrition into your eating decisions. If this feels tricky, it might be helpful to work with a non-diet, weight-inclusive dietitian as you do this.
So, YES, it may be difficult to act as your healthiest self would act. You may still feel a bit of stress around this new way of life with unconditional permission to eat and full body respect, but by practicing these actions over and over again, you solidify your commitment to self-trust, intuitive eating and rejection of diet culture. And as this commitment and conviction solidifies, the food police eventually run out of fuel.
What we feed grows! Choosing to starve the food police and feed your healthiest self is EXTREMELY challenging in a society convincing you to do the opposite but I have total and complete faith in YOU, yes you!
Naming the food police can be helpful.
One more action step that could be helpful is naming the food police. Some of my clients call it the “disordered eating voice” or “diet culture voice” or “inner bully” and give theirs a specific name, like “Nasty Nancy.”
Every time a food police thought (or voice) interjects, make a note of this voice being separate from the voice of your own truest, healthiest self. Just like in tip number one- stating what you’re noticing and identifying if it’s helpful or not- the more you can clarify for your own brain that this is not the voice you want to be listening to, the more immediate, routine and subconscious your future rejection of this voice can be.
If you have a trusted friend or significant other that you spend a lot of time with, you can share your name for the food police with them, and then let them know when you notice the food police creeping in. You might be sitting at a restaurant pondering what to order, and you notice a food police thought creeping in. You might share with your partner, “Nasty Nancy is telling me that I need to order just the appetizer size of this dish, but I know better.” Verbalizing this is a method of accountability and another way to practice calling out the food police and reminding yourself that this is not your voice.
If it feels good to you, you might even do some art, create a playlist or journal your thoughts depicting the food police voice and then a separate piece for depicting the voice of your healthiest self. Clearly differentiating between the two helps your own subconscious tell them apart so that as you move forward in your journey, the rejection of the food police will become more swift and automatic with every passing day.
Give yourself grace
Labeling and evicting the food police definitely won’t happen overnight. It will be an effort that you practice over and over again and that pays off in the long run. You may take a few steps forward and then a step back. That is OK. Consider it a process, just like learning a new skill.
If you’re feeling lost, struggling to differentiate between helpful and harmful thoughts about food or you’re wondering, “what IS healthy and normal to be thinking?” then you might benefit from some 1:1 work with me or at least grabbing a copy of my Peace in 3 Method eBook here. We can unpack your history with food and your relationship with your body and really go thought by thought, analyzing what is helpful and in-line with your values and what is harmful and probably a remnant of diet culture or food police. Read more about working with me here.