Break Your Food Rules

The title of this post may surprise you, coming from someone who is deeply passionate about nutrition and utilising food to achieve complete health and wellness, but hear me out – you should break your food rules! You should eat foods that you have previously forbidden yourself to eat, you should eat too much, you should skip meals, you should eat irregular meals, you should eat food that is total crap, you should skip out on exercise, you should break every rule in your own book. I want to keep this real. At this point you might think I have lost my mind and feel ready to hit the ‘unfollow’ button, but this is a post I have had brewing for some time. You see this year I have been experimenting a little with the whole concept of restriction, especially with regard to food. I have read countless blogs and books about ‘healing’ my relationship with food. I have observed the eating habits of my friends, family and myself in a reflective way. I’ve become curious about food habits and how they affect us.

When I first started making my dietary changes a few years ago it was initially a lot of removal - removal of gluten, followed by removal of sugar and then removal of dairy. Some grains were slowly removed too, as well as vegetable oils and processed foods. For many people who have cleaned up their diet, this is a pretty standard process. It might seem restrictive, and in some ways it is, but there is also a lot of addition. Addition of super foods, new fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, spices and herbs, and coconut oil, just to name a few!

screw up

As I hinted above, this year I have been experimenting a bit with these rules. If I am completely honest (which I always try to be), this year has been a bit of a dietary mess for me. It has been a mixture of attempts at a perfectly clean diet and weeks of just eating whatever I had left in the cupboard. It included a rather unfortunate SWOTVAC week where I consumed nine Pana Chocolate blocks in two weeks, plus a 1kg bag of granola… straight from the bag. I ate sugar, chocolate, lots of cheese. I drank wine and tequila and cocktails. I am not perfect. I am only human. (Disclaimer: one food rule I do still stick by 100% is gluten – I will not eat gluten under any circumstances).

In all of these ups and downs I have reflected a lot on this idea of breaking the rules. Although it is wonderful to see the wholefood food movement growing globally, there has also been an unfortunate rise in a relatively new eating disorder known as orthorexia. Orthorexia, I feel, is closely linked to one’s ability to break their own food rules. An orthorexic is characterised by a fixation on eating only food that they deem to be pure and clean enough, to the point where they can suffer social anxiety and avoid going out for fear of not being able to eat pure food. Of course there is a fine line between simply caring for one’s health and being orthorexic, and I am not suggesting that you should just eat anywhere because it is more convenient.

What I do suggest though is that you take some time to review your food rules and considering whether they are all necessary. Do you have some rules that perhaps you could lovingly release? Do your food rules cause you anxiety at every meal, and if so how could you change your attitude towards food? When you do eat something that is outside your normal diet, how do you feel? Is there a sense guilt, shame or regret?

My point is that if you do eat something “bad”, the guilt and shame does far more damage to you than the actual food. Also, if you are going to allow yourself this treat – ENJOY IT! What is the point of eating it otherwise? Your attitude towards your food and how you feel whilst and after you eat it is arguably more important than the actual food. From my own experience I have found that once I released my preconceived ideas around “good” and “ bad” foods and allowed myself to eat what I truly felt like eating, I naturally crave the good stuff anyway. Not only that, but when I am present and enjoying my food, I stop eating when I am satisfied and don’t need to snack. I am in tune with my body’s needs.

Now if I eat something that is outside of my normal “diet”, I make sure I enjoy it. And once I have treated myself I then continue to nourish my body with beautiful, fresh and organic food that constitutes my regular diet. It is important to treat yourself, in moderation. It is important and healthy to have these treats. And when you stop fighting with food, you stop trying to resist everything you deem to be “bad” you can be free from those restrictions. Once you are free food is no longer a big deal, it is not a stress and you will learn how to listen to your intuition. You will naturally eat what is good for you.

Another benefit I found from breaking my own food rules is that you remember why you had them in the first place. It might sound silly, but when you start to experiment with these rules you are often reminded that you avoid certain foods because it makes you feel just ick! For example, I have avoided corn for several years because it makes me feel sick in the stomach. But once again I decided to eat some corn chips and popcorn as a little experiment. Sure enough I had stomach cramps mere hours later, which lasted through the night. Note to self: corn and I do not get along. Similarly, I find that lots of dairy doesn’t sit well with me, but some natural yogurt does. I know that I don’t tolerate sugar well, but a little bit of dark chocolate is okay. Cocktails (I presume due to their sugar content) don’t sit well with me, so a glass of red wine is better.

Life is too short to take anything too seriously, even food rules! I totally support having food restrictions so long as they are what is best for your body. But always remember if you break a rule that is okay! Don’t beat yourself up. Be present and listen to what your body and soul craves. Love yourself enough to release your negative thoughts around food.

What do you think? Do you ever break your food rules? How do you feel?

Also, a must-read on this topic is ‘Women, Food & God’ by Geneen Roth!

Keep healthy, happy, Erica x