I hope you’re getting some value out of this series of posts on joyful eating over the holidays. How is your preparation going? If you’ve missed the last 2 posts in this series, on self care and preparation, they are here and here.

Today, I want to talk to you about dropping the food rules and how important that is to eating with joy. Not just over the holidays – all the time!

What are food rules?

Food rules are ideas in your head about what, when and how much you should eat. They are internalised messages which come from external rules: any diets you’ve followed will have had rules; many authors on health and ‘healthy eating’ will tell you how you ‘should’ eat.  And, boy, there are so many of them – often conflicting! Things like:

  • don’t eat sugar
  • eat only x grams of carbs per day
  • eat high fat, low carb
  • eat high protein, low carb
  • eat low fat, high carb
  • eat low protein, high carb
  • don’t eat after a certain time
  • make sure you eat within x hours of waking up
  • leave a gap of x hours between meals
  • drink with your food
  • don’t drink with your food
  • cook in olive oil
  • cook in coconut oil
  • eat butter
  • don’t eat butter
  • eat eggs
  • don’t eat eggs
  • eat dairy
  • only eat raw dairy
  • don’t eat dairy
  • only eat sugar with protein
  • only have one helping
  • divide your plate into 4 categories: carbs, protein, vegetables and fats
  • divide your plate into 3 categories: protein, fats and vegetables
  • divide your plate into 6 categories: carbs, protein, fats, vegetables, dairy, fruit

On and on it goes! Doesn’t it make you crazy???

How do you think food rules sap all the joy out of eating?

Food rules draw you away from your own inner wisdom.

They create a separation between your inner knowledge and the food in front of you. They get in the way of you knowing whether you’re hungry; whether you feel like eating this particular thing; whether you LIKE it – if it gives you pleasure; if your body feels good when you eat it; if it energises you or makes you feel lethargic…

If your mind is on the rule book, you won’t be able to tune in.

And if you don’t tune in, you’re likely to end up dissatisfied. You’ll either be full of something you didn’t enjoy, but that matched a food rule, and end up eating the thing you wanted all along anyway, with the consequence of being stuffed – or overstuffed; or you’ll just feel miserable, because you won’t allow yourself anything that goes against the food rules. And that’s likely to end in a binge or overeating at some point down the line.

Whereas, if you eat exactly what you want, and stop eating it when you’re satisfied or when you stop enjoying it, you’ll eat in a moderate way. You won’t crave what you didn’t have. You’re much less likely to binge or to be overstuffed.

Food guilt

Food rules categorise foods as good or bad. Grandma’s trifle is bad, brussels sprouts are good. Stuffing is bad, turkey is good. While it’s true that foods have different nutritional components, no food is all good or all bad (it’s only bad when it’s rotten :)).

The categorisation of foods as good or bad sets up a phenomenon known as ‘forbidden foods.’ If something is bad, you surely shouldn’t have it, and should avoid it at all costs. Not only that, we attach moral judgements to these foods – think about all the ways that ‘forbidden foods’ are described in the diet world:

  • sins
  • illegal foods
  • cheats
  • guilty foods
  • decadent foods
  • mortal sins
  • naughties
  • baddies
  • indulgences

I’m sure there are others that I’ve missed – but you get the picture.

Which foods fall into the category of forbidden foods for you? Foods you fear, foods you don’t trust yourself around… the foods you’re convinced you’ll overeat or binge on? Is it Christmas pudding? Is it mince pies? Perhaps it’s turkey stuffing? Or roast potatoes? Do you hate chocolate tree decorations, because you know you’ll be the one who furtively eats them? Or do the edible stocking fillers haunt and taunt you while they’re in the cupboard waiting to make their way into the stockings on Christmas Eve?

When you label foods as good or bad, you likely also label yourself as a good or bad person.

Haven’t you ever heard yourself saying ‘I’ve been so good today…’ as a conclusion to your day’s eating of approved foods? Or, if you’ve eaten the forbidden food, ‘I’ve been so bad!’ You may even label your whole day as good or bad, depending on what has passed your lips.

And this leads to guilt and shame.

Which drives more eating,  because holding yourself as wrong or bad because of what you put in your mouth, will likely lead you to eat more of the foods you hold as wrong and bad! And because you still hold them as forbidden, you’ll be stuffing them in, because you’ll be promising yourself that tomorrow, you’ll be good again. And you won’t touch those bad foods. Right?

You convince yourself that tomorrow there won’t be any more mince pies.

The Christmas cake will all be gone and you won’t get another opportunity.

Your grandmother’s special Christmas trifle will be finished and you won’t have a chance to have more till next Christmas… if she’s still around by then…

But if you turn your thinking around to:

  • I can eat mince pies every day of the year, if I want them. (This is not a lie. You can stock pile them and freeze. You can make them.)
  • Christmas cake is in large supply and I can eat it any time I want it. (This is not a lie. You can make one any time you like. Or you can buy now and stockpile for later.)
  • Grandma has given me her recipe and I can make that trifle tomorrow, next week or any time I want! (This is only a lie if you haven’t asked for it… so do whatever is necessary so you can have it if you want it.)
  • Chocolate is available 24/7. And if I really want Lindt reindeers, in particular, rather than the exact same chocolate in bar form, I can buy them in large supply and keep them for when I want them.

Removing the forbiddenness from foods, gives you your freedom from them and your joy back.

If you truly get that you can have these foods any time you want them, there’s no urgency to get them in now. You don’t have to eat like it’s the Last Supper because there’s no tomorrow. As far as anyone knows, there will be a tomorrow, with all your favourite foods in it, if you want them.

So, take a breath!

Eat what you want, without guilt!

Don’t forget – it’s completely FINE to overeat as well! I can promise you that the people around you who don’t have food issues are very likely to be eating more than they normally would. It’s.Not.A.Crime.

If you missed my free visualisation gift at the start of this series, it’s never too late to get started! Find it here.

The next blog in this series is all about the day itself: “EAT!”. Look out for it!

Ready to heal your relationship with food?