We are all born knowing how to eat.
We come into the world innocent, filled with instinct, emotions, and the capacity to eventually form thoughts. The beliefs that we are exposed to growing up are often the building blocks to the formation of our own beliefs, whether it be about people, politics, religion, etc. In regards to eating, almost all of us have grown up in a world where food is decribed in moralistic terms: decadent, sinful, temping, good, or bad. We come into the world eating for pleasure, satisfaction, and biological drive, but eventually, that all gets really messed up. The food police tells us we don’t know how to eat anymore.
The food police shows its face in many different forms. Maybe it’s a parent forcing you to eat your vegetables before allowing dessert. Or your doctor telling you that you have to cut out certain foods in order to achieve lasting health. The food police is housed deep within your psyche, telling you to “eat this, not that” – shouting negative accusations and guilt-provoking indictments. Learning how to ignore the food police is a hard. But it’s a critical step in becoming a normal eater – and not letting food control your life anymore.
In order to challenge the food police, you have to:
1) Develop nonjudgmental awareness of your thoughts, and then
2) Cultivate retorts to the food police’s judgments and demands.
For now, let’s focus on Step 1.
One of the most helpful tools I’ve found in challenging the food police voice is approaching your thoughts with curious awareness. You can have a thought and simply observe it, without allowing it to occupy your mind and without passing any judgment. All you’re doing is simply observing it.
For example, maybe the food police thought comes into your mind: “I have to eat 3 servings of vegetables today.” Notice how normally, you start to expand upon this one thought to create an entire story. You might start thinking that if you don’t eat your vegetables then everyone will notice at lunchtime and they’ll think you’re unhealthy and you’ll start to gain weight and you’ll get some chronic disease and everyone will think you’re ugly and a failure and….so on. You start feeling things like guilt, failure, inadequacy, and shame, because of that narrative you created in your head. Those thoughts turned into feelings. Then those feelings turn into action – maybe you start eating food that isn’t enjoyable to you, moving your body in a way that doesn’t feel good, or other dieting tactics that take you away from your true self and values.
But you don’t have to believe everything you think.
Instead, when the thought arises, observe it without adding a narrative or judgment. You don’t have to believe everything you think. Recognize that these food police thoughts have done nothing to actually improve your health and everything to keep you on a dieting and weight fluctuation rollarcoaster.
There are some thoughts that pass through your brain that you can latch onto. But there are others that are really just distracting you from living in line with your values.
You can’t control the thoughts you have. But you can control how you approach them and react to them. Developing nonjudgmental awareness of your thoughts and letting them be is a critical step in regaining trust with yourself.