Intuitive Eating: Learning to Trust Yourself Again, Part 1

Food rules.  Many have lived and died with their rigid food rules, unwillingly to compromise from strict guidelines that have provided a false sense of control and structure.  Does this sound familiar?

“Don’t eat anything after 6pm as this might cause weight gain.”

“Omit all foods containing fat and sugar.”

“Don’t eat anything containing white flour.”

“Drink a full glass of water before each meal to trick your body into thinking it’s full.”

“Eat the same preplanned meals over and over again.”

“Don’t drink anything that has calories in it”

“Diet six days a week but give yourself one day to splurge on whatever you want.”

We could go on and on with the list of food rules that have been created to “help” our bodies exercise control over what and how we eat.  Anyone who has dieted before can describe the complete agony over feeling unable to eat what they crave or restricting foods they want to consume most.

Imagine placing a toddler in an enormous room with piles of toys and then instructing them not to touch or play with the red truck sitting in the corner.  Naturally, the child would gravitate towards the red truck, curiously choosing to pursue the toy they were not freely given permission to play with.

Similarly, our bodies respond aggressively to food rules we attempt to place over ourselves, attempting to override the nonsensical regulations we force in the name of control.  Why?

According to a study done by researchers at Cornell University, it was found that participants made an average of 221 food-related decisions each day [1].  This clearly reveals how we are inundated with a sheer quantity of food related decisions on a daily basis.  Take a trip down any aisle in the grocery store, and you can contest to the numerous choices you might have to make regarding any food item.  Choosing something as simple as cereal may cost you more time than you thought was necessary as you face endless rows of boxes.

In light of this evidence, it makes sense that we resort to “food rules” to help guide us through the overwhelming sea of choices.  Food rules take out the guess work.  It’s much easier to cut out main food groups and designate what is acceptable to eat and what is not, drawing a line in the sand and categorizing food as “good” and “bad”.

However, there lies great danger in this method of thinking and perception of eating.

Our bodies were not intended to be governed by rules that object to our natural efforts for survival, pleasure, and progression.  The truth is, each of our bodies are unique and require varying amounts of nutrition.  While professionals can calculate your estimated caloric needs, even that changes on a day to day basis.  We are not robotic, stagnant beings, and food that is meant to nourish and satisfy should not be reduced to a compilation of senseless rules.  After all, who can tell us what OUR bodies need besides our own bodies?  Listening to the outside noise of rules and regulations dims down the natural intuitivism our body has, setting us up for dysfunction in our ability to eat normally.

On the outside, food rules appear to be a prettily packaged solution to the chaos we face with food choices.  However, they can also lead to a road with much more devastating consequences, such as the development of an eating disorder.

Learning to become an intuitive eater and respond to the natural cues of your body is a much better alternative to the bondage of food rules.  Be sure to read the second part of this post next week to learn more about intuitive eating and its role in eating disorder recovery.

What role do food rules play in your life?


[1]: Wansink B, Sobal J. Mindless eating: the 200 daily food decisions we

overlook. Environ Behav. 2007;39:106 –123.


About Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC

Jacquelyn Ekern founded Eating Disorder Hope in 2005, driven by a profound desire to help those struggling with anorexia, bulimia and binge-eating disorder. This passion resulted from her battle with, and recovery from, an eating disorder. As president, Jacquelyn manages Ekern Enterprises, Inc. and the Eating Disorder Hope website.