Letting go of food rules

By Kathryn O’Connell, LCSW

“Eat low fat, no eat high fat.” “Graze all day, no have three meals.” “Everything must be whole wheat, no, wait, no more gluten!” Rules are everywhere in diet culture and are often inconsistent and/or contradictory. It is difficult to keep track of what is “healthy” these days and we find ourselves taking advice from the “experts” rather than listening to the true experts - our bodies. We imagine the rules are a form of control over our situation and we place judgment on ourselves if we don’t follow the rules to a T. Imagine a world without these rules - how much time would you have to think of other things?

It’s not easy to get rid of these rules that have been drilled into our heads for so many decades. Letting go can take a lot of conscious effort. So, how do we get rid of these rules? Let’s take a look at some guidelines:

1. Determine what you believe the rules do for you.

  • Do the rules provide you with some form of control?

  • Do you have the rules because you are participating in diet culture and believe they will make you appear a certain way?

  • Are these rules ingrained in you and you feel like there is no other way to think or to live?

2. Determine what would happen if you let go of the rules.

  • Does letting go of the rules frighten you at all? If so, what frightens you the most?

  • What would you do with all of your spare time if you didn’t need to think of these rules?

3. Be prepared for the people who are not yet ready to let go of the rules.

When most people start a new diet they want to share that fact with the world. You show up to a family gathering and your aunt is educating you on the benefits of only eating raw vegetables, and then you go to your work happy hour and someone is bragging about being a meat eater. Just as you don’t want to judge your food choices, try not to judge the individuals that just can’t help but share their food intake with you. Understand that you’ve come to this idea of letting go of food rules because you don’t like how the rules have served you in the past. If needed, tell the person you don’t participate in diet talk or just simply change the conversation.

4. Start asking yourself: “What does my body need right now?” instead of “What should I eat?”

An easy way to begin this process is to think, “Do I want something cold or warm?”; “What texture would taste good?”; “What colors do I want?”

5. Dive in, let go, and be free.

The only way to actually trust this way of eating is to give it a shot and prove to yourself that everything is okay. Let go of one rule at a time, or all of the rules! (There are no specific rules on how to do this). Take a daily note of how letting go of rules has served you in a positive way. Can letting go of rules work for some other areas of your life? Living food rule free can be a liberating experience and I hope you can experience it!

Kathryn O’Connell is a therapist at Cobb Psychotherapy. If you are looking for support in finding solutions to enhance your overall wellness, contact Cobb Psychotherapy by calling 718-260-6042 or emailing reception@cobbpsychotherapy.com, and see how therapy can help.

Elizabeth Cobb