Nutrients are crucial to our survival. Most of us get nutrients from eating food, which makes eating food vital to living. Now, you would think that eating was pretty straight forward. You choose a food. You chew it. You swallow it and your body takes care of digesting it and obtaining the nutrients from that food.
In theory, eating is simple. In practice, for many people, this is far from the truth.
Why can eating feel complicated?
Unless you have a medical condition, the actual physical side of chewing, swallowing and digesting food is often the easy part. The part that makes eating feel complicated is choosing the foods you're going to eat.
Our food choices are influenced by numerous factors. These can include:
The food available to you
The cost of food
Your food preferences
Your skill level to prepare food
Social settings, such as parties
Your mood and stress levels
Diet rules and diet culture
There are many more factors that affect food choices than just those listed above. It's no wonder with so many factors influencing food choice that it starts to feel complicated.
Drawing attention to the last factor on the list above, you may or may not have heard of 'diet rules' and 'diet culture' before.
What is diet culture?
Diet culture refers to the belief that physical appearance determines your worth and acceptance in society. Usually, those in a 'slimmer' body are deemed more worthy and, therefore, are accepted by others. These beliefs can be picked up from comments from friends or family, social media, magazines - the list really does go on.
Unfortunately, diet culture is often reflected in people's actions, whether they intentionally mean to or not. For example, on TikTok many people share 'What I Eat In A Day' posts. If two people shared the exact same 'What I Eat In A Day' post, except one person met diet culture's body standards of being 'slim', versus the other person who carried excess weight, and therefore didn't meet diet culture's body standards, the latter person is much more likely to receive hate comments. It's not just on social media where we see differential treatment based on physical appearance and body size. Health Care Professionals may treat patients differently based on their body, or someone may not be offered a job due to unconscious bias.
Ultimately, since diet culture sets the expectations of how you should look, it also has an influence on diet and exercise patterns. Labelling foods as 'good' or 'bad', severely restricting portion sizes, excessively exercising and setting food rules can all be classic behaviours that originate from diet culture.
What are food rules?
Food rules are exactly what they say on the tin - rules for food. These rules are usually formed from beliefs that you've picked up over time, most likely from diet culture. This could be avoiding eating late in the evening out of fear of gaining weight or a diet plan telling you that carbohydrates are bad for you.
It's common for most people to have some form of a food rule, and you might not even realise it. Food rules can be sneaky and come in many shapes and sizes.
Food rules can include:
Not eating past 7pm
Not eating carbohydrates
Only allowing yourself one slice of bread
Labelling pasta as 'bad' and so you mustn't eat it
Only eating ice cream if you've gone to the gym today
Perhaps some of these sound familiar?
The problem with food rules is that they typically result in restrictive eating, which for many people will end in overeating the foods that their rules forbid. Not only can this physically impact your body, but it can also impact your mental wellbeing, increasing the risk of developing disordered eating.
What can you do?
Existing in diet culture and following a list of food rules can feel exhausting. Trust me, I've been there. One way to break away from feeling trapped by food and gaining food freedom so that you can enjoy eating again, is through intuitive eating.
What is intuitive eating?
Intuitive eating involves listening and trusting your body to help you make food choices that will honour both your physical and emotional wellbeing, without any judgement. The purpose of eating is to offer your body the nutrients it needs to function, but also meeting your emotional needs too. It might not seem like it right now, but food can be enjoyed!
What intuitive eating absolutely isn't is another weight loss diet. Weight loss isn't the focus here. Instead, it's about:
Breaking away from diet culture's beliefs and your food rules
Learning to respect your body regardless of it's shape, size or appearance
Reconnecting with your body so that you can hear your hunger and fullness signals
Discovering the foods you truly enjoy
Learning to trust your body
Often, the physical part of eating isn't the difficult part. Instead, the mental process of choosing food is where many people struggle. Diet culture and food rules are responsible for the restrictive diets that many people undertake. Learning to intuitively eat can help ease the decision around the foods you choose to eat, based off your body's physical and emotional needs, rather than any weight loss goal.
If you would like to know more about intuitive eating, sign up to my upcoming Finding Your Food Freedom workshop on Tuesday 4th April at 7pm. In this workshop, you'll learn how to break away from restrictive diets, ditch food guilt & stop thinking about food all the time. To find out more, press here.