If you are working towards becoming an intuitive eater, getting rid of rules around the food you eat is SUPER important. Challenging food rules will help you to make peace with food so you don't think about food for the majority of your day or feel guilty for eating foods you shouldn't. So what are food rules?
Food rules can vary from person to person. Food rules can develop as a result of following different diets, parents/family members/friends telling you how to eat, information you read on the internet, posts you see on social media, etc. When you see something that tells you how to eat, that information could develop into a food rule that you use to guide your eating.
For example, maybe you read somewhere that you shouldn't eat after 7:00 pm. You start to practice that rule and eventually you never eat after 7:00 pm no matter what. Maybe you got home late and still need to eat dinner, but it's 7:15 pm. You either skip dinner (and feel hungry and have obsessive thoughts about food), or you eat and feel guilty for eating after 7:00 pm. Or what if you are at a party and they bring out some snacks at 7:30 pm. You either don't eat the snacks but want them the whole time, or you eat the snacks and feel guilty. (By the way - You can eat at any time of day. Your body needs nourishment whether it's 7:00 pm or 2:00 pm. Your gut doesn't digest food any differently at 6:59 pm than it does at 7:01 pm.) Food rules become problems because they make you unable to fuel your body appropriately and enjoy food.
Like I said, food rules vary from person to person and can take any form. These rules may not even apply just to food. Maybe you have some rules around what you wear, how you treat your body, or your exercise. It may be difficult to identify all the food rules you have. There may be some obvious ones, but there could also be many small rules that pop up throughout the week that dictate what and how you eat.
If you want to get rid of the food rules, you first have to increase awareness and identify the rules. One of the best ways to identify these rules is to notice how you feel around food. Pay attention to your emotions. If you feel guilty, sad, or angry after eating, chances are that you broke a food rule. Once you notice your emotions, you can identify some of the food rules you have.
Another way that you can identify your food rules is if something that is true for everyone else seems to not apply to you. For example, if you believe it's okay for others to eat dessert but you're not allowed, you've got a food rule going on.
Here are a couple more examples:
"Ice cream sounds good, but an apple is healthier so I better choose the apple." - THAT'S a food rule.
"I'm hungry but I can't eat lunch until 12:00." -THAT'S a food rule.
"My stomach looks bigger than yesterday so I better skip breakfast." - THAT'S a food rule.
Next time you are thinking about what to eat, ask yourself if you are following any food rules or really listening to what YOU want to eat.
Once you identify your food rules, you can start to challenge them. The best way to do that is by doing the opposite action. If you have a food rule to never have dessert with lunch, then make sure to have dessert with lunch! Food rules make you inflexible and rigid around food. Breaking your food rules consistently will normalize your eating so that you can find food freedom. Soon you won't have to follow the arbitrary rules, but you can listen to your body to determine what and when to eat. It will take time, but your guilt, anger, and sadness that occurs when you break a food rule will decrease and go away. It takes work, but it is so worth it to break free from those rules!