The food police are the unreasonable rules, feelings and thoughts that are deeply embedded in your head, developed by years of dieting and living in diet culture. It causes you to feel guilty before, during and after eating certain foods. Here’s how you stop your internal food police – a crucial step to having a healthy, normal relationship with food.
The food police
The food police are either your ~ SUPPORTER OR SABOTEUR…
It’s called the ‘internal food police’ – we all have them. They’re those thoughts in your head that declare you as “good” for ordering a salad or “bad” for ordering fries with your meal. The food police can also be a friend, family member, doctors, teachers or our society as a whole…
If you’ve been “bad” it makes you judge and feel guilty for your food choices. This is what keeps you in the dieting loop and sets you up on the restrict-binge-repent-repeat cycle.
By identifying and challenging the inner voices you can make neutral food choices based on hunger and satisfaction, rather than on diet rules or deprivation.
These thoughts will either serve you as your food supporter or saboteur.
In the Intuitive Eating book they describe the Food Police as a “strong voice that’s developed through dieting. It’s your inner judge and jury that determine if you are doing “good” or “bad”. It is the sum of all your dieting and food rules, and gets stronger with each diet. It also gets strengthened through new food rules that you may read about in magazines or messages you hear from friends or family.”
Common food police language
I shouldn’t eat too much bread.
I’m so bad for eating this brownie.
Saying no thanks to birthday cake, I’m being good today.
I shouldn’t be hungry yet, I didn’t eat that long ago.
Even though you are pregnant doesn’t mean you should “let yourself go”.
You failed today because you didn’t eat a single fruit or vegetable.
I can only imagine how many points/calories this meal is.
I could go on!
How to challenge and stop the food police
As your journey continues in Intuitive Eating you can begin strengthening other more helpful voices:
“The Food Anthropologist” – the voice that makes observations without judgement.
This voice allows you to discover new foods without judging yourself.
It allows you to honour the thoughts and feelings you’re having about how your body is being fed without judging it based on what someone else thinks you should be eating or doing. NO ONE ELSE can tell you what your body needs. We all need different things and what makes one person feel good doesn’t mean it will make everyone feel good. With that said you also have to reach a point that you can “hear” what your body is telling you.
“The Nurturer” – this voice is gentle and is how we would talk to our best friends or close family members.
“You aren’t bad because you had one cookie”
“It’s ok that you skipped your workout because you were tired. Sleep is just as important as movement”
“You are still YOU, no matter what the scale says”
“When you take care of yourself you are happier”
This voice isn’t an “excuser”, it’s actually a voice of reason. I’ve learned self-care and self-compassion is SO important when learning to repair your relationship with food.
When I went to eating disorder therapy nine years ago, the Food Police ruled my life! I had SO MANY RULES. Over the years, I’ve slowly released them and found food freedom and you can too.
Celebrity diets that encourage “three days of drinking only shakes and herbal teas”, contribute to girls and women developing a hyper-awareness of the size and shape of their body and a disordered relationship with food. Diets are dangerous and simply do not work long-term.
Celebrity diets are dangerous
We of course only see the glamorous sides of celebrities diets. We never see the negative effects.
This type of fad diet that encourages extreme weight loss in a short amount of time is neither sustainable or healthy; physically and mentally. Sure, you will lose weight initially, but you will put it all back on and then some the moment you start eating again.
Rapid weight-loss diets are very unsuccessful at achieving long-term weight loss.
Often fad diets eliminate important nutrients – they are not designed to keep you healthy, they are designed for rapid weight loss, so they do put people at risk nutritionally, and as a result, may experience severe health effects.
These effects can range from fatigue or constipation through to more serious health risks like osteoporosis or an eating disorder.
Long-term dieters may also notice dry skin and nails and their hair may even start falling out. Those who lose weight too quickly may even put themselves at risk for a heart attack.
Food deprivation leads to rebound binge eating.
Overindulging in a food item that you restrict is common if you are a chronic dieter.
So what’s the point of starving yourself for days, knowing it may eventually lead to disordered behaviours towards food such as binge eating, just to fit into a dress for a couple of hours?
Kim Kardashian shared her diet prep with fans. Taking to her app, Kardashian revealed she is following a “cleanse” in the lead up to the Met Gala on May 7th.
According to E! the diet involves eating two-to-four solid meals a day, focusing on lean proteins (like salmon) and leafy salads and vegetables. Days four through to six of the cleanse, however, consist purely of liquids, including shakes and herbal teas.
I’m not sure who’s worse? Kim Kardashian West for promoting disordered eating to millions of her very young and very impressionable fans? Celebrities should NOT be giving out nutrition advice. They are NOT nutrition experts.
Or, Harper’s BAZAAR Australia for being so out of touch with the reality that approximately 15% of Australian women will experience disordered eating or an eating disorder during her lifetime. Stories like these perpetuate the myth that short-term starvation diets are healthy and normal.
Make waves with your wallet ladies. Do not buy these types of magazines or read online articles like these that give you uninformed information and pray on your low self-worth and your money.
No “quick fix” will ever replace a healthy lifestyle, and any diet that promises otherwise is a lie.
While most women who diet do not go on to develop an eating disorder, MANY do develop a disordered relationship with food and their bodies.
It’s important for women to be aware that diets are dangerous, and to understand that your worth is not inextricably tied to your weight. It’s a hard lesson to learn and one that takes time. But it is possible with the right support.
The pressure in Hollywood to stay slim and beautiful may have just caught up with Gwyneth Paltrow.
If you want to look gorgeous in your dress for an event (or anytime), eat a balanced diet of foods you enjoy, move your body regularly, getting adequate sleep and work on managing stress levels with self-care.
By doing these health-promoting behaviours you support your health and well-being and give your body the best possible chance to find it’s own natural set-range weight. And of course, this is something you do weeks and months (dare I say “lifestyle” aka…years) before an event. Not a week before.
Often when people hear the term “disordered eating,” they assume it’s another way of saying someone has an eating disorder. However, we are dealing with two very distinct disorders: “disordered eating” and “eating disorder.”
It’s pretty easy to diagnose a full-blown eating disorder like Anorexia or Bulimia Nervosa. But more subtle forms of disordered eating are difficult to pinpoint. Our culture is obsessed with size and weight, diet and exercise, to the point where disordered eating is very pervasive.
The research suggests that up to 50% of the population demonstrate a problematic or disordered relationship with food, body, and exercise. Whilst rates of clinical eating disorders are much lower, estimated from 1% to 3% of the general population.
They sound and look very similar, so what is the difference between “disordered eating” and “eating disorder?
Disordered Eating is generally having an unhealthy relationship with food and eating for reasons other than being physically hungry, such as when you’re bored, tired or stressed. Disordered Eating does not fall under the Eating Disorder set criteria.
Symptoms of disordered eating may include behaviours commonly associated with eating disorders, such as food restriction and body dissatisfaction. The difference lies in the frequency and severity of behaviours and the distress they cause to the individual.
Disordered Eating looks like:
Eat to cope with emotions
Periodic binge eating
Eating when bored, tired, angry, stressed
Focus on weight and calorie intake
Thinking that reaching a goal weight will make you happy
Consuming large amounts of food in secret
Self-worth or self-esteem based on body shape and weight
Orthorexic behaviours – ‘clean eating’
Rigid adherence to dietary paradigms
Anxiety about certain foods or food groups
Negative food talk and food shaming
Engaging in dieting or disordered eating is a risk factor for the development of an eating disorder.
An eating disorder is a psychological disorderofficially classified in the one document regarded as the world authority on mental disorders, the DSM.
The number of people in Australia with an eating disorder at any given time is estimated to be 913,986, or approximately 9% of the population (Butterfly Foundation, 2012). Due to the significant feelings of guilt and shame one experiences with an eating disorder, these are likely to be conservative figures. It is estimated that 20% of women have an undiagnosed eating disorder (NEDC, 2012b).
Of these people, 47% have Binge Eating Disorder, 12% Bulimia Nervosa, 3% Anorexia Nervosa and 38% other eating disorders (Butterfly Foundation, 2012)
There are four diagnoses of eating disorders in the DSM: Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa, Binge Eating Disorder, and eating disorder not otherwise specified. Each of these disorders has specific criteria.
Restriction of energy intake relative to requirements leading to a much low body weight in the context of age, sex, developmental trajectory, and physical health.
Intense fear of gaining weight or becoming fat, even though underweight.
Disturbance in the way in which one’s body weight or shape is experienced, undue influence of body weight or shape on self-evaluation, or denial of the seriousness of the current low body weight.
Recurrent episodes of binge eating characterized by BOTH of the following:
Eating in a discrete amount of time (within a 2-hour period) large amounts of food.
Sense of lack of control over eating during an episode.
Recurrent inappropriate compensatory behaviour to prevent weight gain (via self-induced vomiting or excessive exercise, and use of diet pills and/ or laxatives).
The binge eating and compensatory behaviours both occur, on average, at least once a week for three months.
Self-evaluation is unduly influenced by body shape and weight.
The disturbance does not occur exclusively during episodes of Anorexia Nervosa.
Binge Eating Disorder:
Recurrent episodes of binge eating. An episode of binge eating is characterized by both of the following:
Eating, in a discrete time (such as, within any 2-hour period), an amount of food that is definitely larger than most people would eat in a similar time under similar circumstances
A sense of lack of control over eating during the episode (such as, a feeling that one cannot stop eating or control what or how much one is eating)
The binge-eating episodes are associated with three (or more) of the following:
Eating much more rapidly than normal
Eating until feeling uncomfortably full
Eating large amounts of food when not feeling physically hungry
Eating alone because of feeling embarrassed by how much one is eating
Feeling disgusted with oneself, depressed, or very guilty afterwards
Marked distress about binge eating is present.
The binge eating occurs, on average, at least once a week for three months.
The binge eating is not associated with the recurrent use of inappropriate compensatory behaviours and does not occur exclusively during the course Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa, or Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder.
The motivations behind a person developing an eating disorder is highly complex.
Eating disorders are highly complex and are NOT a “lifestyle choice”. They have a variety of co-morbid psychological issues contributing, such as depression, anxiety and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD).
The aetiology of eating disorders is thought to be: significant trauma, childhood trauma, dysfunctional family behaviour, feelings of helplessness and lack of control, social anxiety, sexual and emotional abuse and many other problems. It is also often thought that genetics play a role in the development of eating disorders, making some people more susceptible to developing them than others.
These motivations result in behaviours that are mentally and physically harmful.
Significant nutrient depletion and caloric deprivation are problems for Anorexia, which has the highest mortality rates of any mental health issue. For Bulimia, metabolic imbalance may result, and several gastrointestinal disorders, stomach acid issues, and tooth decay. Binge Eating Disorder may also have significant physiological effects as binge cycles can seriously harm the gut and the body’s metabolism.
In a sense, you could say that the serious psychological issues and dangerous physical problems are what distinguish disordered eating from eating disorders.
Problems with eating exist on a spectrum. On one end of the spectrum you have people with severe eating disorders. On the other end of the spectrum you have people who are mentally happy and peaceful eaters. Then you have 50% of the population that uses food to cope with their emotions – the disordered eaters. All of us exist somewhere on this spectrum.
Why does this matter?
Even if someone does not technically have “disordered eating or an eating disorder,” they may be on the spectrum. This may be because they do not meet the strict DSM criteria of bingeing often enough, or in my case, my BMI was considered normal (I was on the lower end of normal) and “not sick enough”; even though I had been bingeing and purging multiple times a day and engaging in excessive exercise behaviours for almost 12 years at that time.
The strict BMI “rules” meant I did not qualify for hospitalisation. The only way I was going to get “proper help” was for my parents to re-mortgage their house (I wasn’t going to let that happen) and pay an astronomical amount for private hospitalisation. Both myself and others with an eating disorder were/are under a significant amount of emotional pain, and physical and mental harm.
Fortunately, even though I wasn’t “sick enough” I had the support of a private psychologist and psychiatrist. Most psychologists I believe understand the potential severity of mental pain regardless of whether someone meets a specific criteria, and will be able to help those who need it.
When to Seek Help?
Seeking treatment will usually be very challenging for people experiencing disordered eating or an eating disorder. Those who view their behaviours as essential to maintaining their preferred weight or shape, or fundamental to their sense of identity, may actively resist treatment.
The length of treatment required will vary considerably from individual to individual, and will depend on the number and seriousness of symptoms, and the complexity of the issues that initiated these behaviours in the first place. Eating Disorders take longer to treat than disordered eating.
You do not need to wait for a formal diagnosis. If your relationship with eating or your body is causing you pain and suffering, then it is worth getting treated. “Nipping it in the bud” with early intervention is the most effective strategy.
In the early days one of the best things you can do is get educated on eating and body issues – the National Eating Disorders Collaboration and the Butterfly Foundation websites contain more information on eating disorders, the warning signs that you can look for, and ways that you can support someone you know is experiencing eating and body issues. It can also be beneficial to speak with your doctor or psychologist about your concerns and get support for yourself.
Don’t hesitate to get in touch if this is something that you need help with. Contact me here and we’ll organise a call.