Have you ever thought about the rules - some more obvious, others almost unnoticeable - that you hold around food and your body? Everyone has unique beliefs, narratives, and ideas that drive how we each relate to food and body, but where did they come from and why do we hold onto them? To really understand your own unique set of food and body rules, it can be helpful to take a little trip backwards in time, to visit your younger self.*
*If thinking about your own childhood feels triggering or activating, we suggest thinking about children in general for the example below
Hi, little child, you. Sitting criss-cross-applesauce on the floor of the kitchen, overhearing the adults chatter on about what they don’t like or need to change about their bodies, commiserating over failed dieting attempts and sharing the latest fad diet tips… all of this swirling around as normalized kitchen counter chatter. The tune of the conversation getting slowly and steadily passed down through generations.
You hear notes of “I need to lose X pounds before vacation/that event/ this holiday”, and “My new guilt-free obsession food! It’s good for you! It’s healthy!”, and “I know I shouldn’t eat this, but I deserve it after the exercise/the emotion/the event I went through…”.
If you are a Boomer, a Gen X-er, a Millenial, or even a Gen Z-er it is likely that the orchestra of messaging around food being something to control and bodies being something to fix rang loud in your home, and more than likely on your TV’s, in your community, and even as part of your education.
As children we are taking in everything the world has to offer, soaking it up like a sponge. Our brains are miraculous, brilliant, world processors that are innately observant, working to find patterns and rules, and doing its very best to piece together this confusing, multilayered world.
So as adults, it only makes sense that what we heard became what we learned, and what we learned became what we now know and believe to be indisputably true… and all of that gets mixed with our own special spices to become own personal flavor of food and body rule soup. So when we heard...
Sound familiar? From an early age, we develop and hold onto our own ✨special✨ “should’s/shouldn’ts”, “goods/bads”, the “if I do this/then that’s” for how we interact with the food we eat and the body we reside in. These are our food and body rules.
We are spoon fed the idea that rules are necessary and important, and that if we follow the rules, we will not only be “healthy” and “beautiful”, but we will be good humans as well. We exist in a society that views and evaluates human value and worth as a reflection of “following the rules”.
Following the rules keeps us safe, holds our place in the community, and provides social currency. Following the rules means that we can show up in the world and be deserving of respect/visibility/love.
I’m here to say that theses rules are a bunch of BS. And this BS is continuously perpetuated, because fat-phobia, the patriarchy, and racism are all very real systems of oppression that provide inherent safety to those who either already fit the mold, or to those who “follow the rules”.
When we dig down, really deep, most of us find that the rules actually just keep us stuck. And scared. And lonely. We also find that we are deserving of respect/visibility/love… period.
So how do we move away from rigidity, when it’s something we have been doing for our WHOLE DAMN LIVES!?
If this upcoming fall season teaches us anything, let it show us nature's inherent wisdom of letttttingggg goooooo of the old and dried-up beliefs. Like the fallen leaves gliding in the wind, let’s release these food and body beliefs with grace, curiosity, and compassion. Only then can we heal and grow.
Here are some tools for getting started on YOUR process of letting go:
Step 1: Acknowledge The Rules
The process of letting go begins by acknowledging your flavor, your special spice, of food and body rules (before even thinking about or actively challenging them).
Taking some time to reflect on and get curious about WHERE your underlying and deeply ingrained food and body beliefs came from, and WHAT makes them so hard to let go of, is the first step.
We often hear clients say “but I don’t have any food or body rules”... but when they return the following week, they come in with a giant list of should’s, must’s, have to’s, and need to’s that have been oh-so-discreetly driving their food and body bus for years, or even decades.
*Helpful reminder: Just because you hold something as a rule, doesn’t mean you follow it 100% of the time, or at all - it’s more about what you believe to be true vs. what you actually do with that belief.*
Some of examples of less obvious rules that folx have shared with us:
“I should be mindful during all of my meals and snacks”
“Gardening doesn’t count as exercise”
“I should eat off smaller plates to help me control my portions”
“If I order a burger, it’s better to get a salad instead of fries”
“I can’t eat dessert before dinner”
“If I’m hungry before dinner, I should just wait and not spoil my appetite”
“I have to weigh myself at the gym”
“Drinking water is always better than drinking soda”
With a clear inventory of both your blatant and more sneaky rules , you will be able to explore what is helpful and what is harmful in your relationship with food and body.
Step 2: Understand the Purpose/ Function of the Rules
Understanding the purpose of the rule is an important part of this process. You are holding onto it tightly, and unless you understand what you are holding onto, it will be hard to let go.
Often, we see that the purpose has little to do with food and body, but comes down to a desire for belonging, stability, accomplishment, control, love, etc.
Step 3: Break or Challenge the Rules that Aren’t Serving You
Once you know what the rules are, and why they have stuck around , then it is possible to work on creating permission to break or actively challenge the rules that aren’t serving you, so you can , let go, and come into greater freedom with food and your body.
So now you can take the first step. Start by making a list of your own rules, beliefs, narratives, stories and dig deeper by asking yourself questions like…
Where did this rule come from?
How does following this rule make me feel?
What happens if I don't follow this rule?
Do I expect others to follow this same rule?
How does following this rule impact my relationships?
What do I miss out on by following this rule?
What is preventing me from letting go of this rule?
What could a life with no food and body rules look like you may be wondering? Here’s a taste of what others have experienced:
And there’s more tasty intentions here in our "What is Normal Eating?" blog!
By existing as humans in this world, we have all acquired and inherited a variety of rules about how we engage with food, and how we show up in our bodies. These are not rules we were born with, or even rules that we have chosen, but ideas that have been absorbed and solidified into our identity and sense of self, over our lifetime.
Getting to know your food and body rules might be uncomfortable, and you may experience resistance to exploring what shows up. But, by doing the hard work, of ACKNOWLEDGING, UNDERSTANDING, CHALLENGING and LETTING GO of the the things that are keeping you stuck, you open up to the possibility of feeling more freedom, peace, and even joy in your relationship with food and your body.
We hope that the natural cycle of a new fall approaching can be a reminder that new and beautiful things can only grow after the letting go of what is no longer needed. s Stay curious and compassionate on your food and body rule journey.
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