Are you obsessed with food rules...or are you just conditioned to be that way?
A few weeks back, I stumbled across this quote on Instagram:
This struck a nerve with me, so I took to Instagram stories with my thoughts.
(Are you following me over there? I post what I’m thinking, studying, reading, cooking and spying on — catching my toddler and husband unawares whilst dancing.)
Here’s what I said:
“We like to put things in boxes. We have ways to diagnose anorexia, bulimia, BED, even orthorexia, but what we fail to see is that there’s a lot of disordered eating outside of diagnosed eating disorders.
Disordered eating is so rampant, that we don’t even see it anymore because to us it’s the new norm. And while yes, it’s very, very common…it is NOT normal. It’s not normal to psychoanalyze our food every day. It’s not normal to restrict our food.
Diet culture is so insidious and so many of us buy into it. The scary thing is that people who are in power — nutrition professionals, people giving health advice — believe in it.
So we continue to perpetuate the same message. And in order to stop that, in order to write a new narrative, I think what we have to do is to call it out when we see it. And I don’t mean point your finger at someone and call it out, but instead…pay attention.
Start to notice your own thoughts, but also pay attention to other messages you hear in the media, on your social media platforms, and start to pay attention to the disorder in our thoughts around food. And if you can see it, you can start to change it.”
I’ve been thinking a LOT about this lately, especially as I market my nutrition program.
I’ve led online nutrition programs for about 7 years now, and recently I’ve been thinking about the name Fueled+Fit. In fact, I almost shelved the program so I could change the name. Why? Because it felt a little too diet culture-y to me.
I am working hard (like, really hard) to change the rhetoric of our food culture. I am pushing to write a new narrative. And in doing so, I am being extremely conscientious of the words that are coming out of my mouth and off my fingertips. I see SO MANY practitioners and “coaches” speaking out of both sides of their mouths — because diet culture is INSIDIOUS — and I don’t want to fall victim to this.
Ultimately I know what my program offers, and I want to be sure the name and the marketing convey this without using diet culture rhetoric.
I call this program Fueled+Fit because my hope is that we can stop looking at food as the enemy, and instead see it for what it is: FUEL for our wonderfully capable bodies. Despite what we've been led to believe from the diet industry, we are actually FIT to make our own food choices. This program shows you how.
Even though food is MORE than just fuel, I decided to leave the name as-is (at least for the time being) because I think it demonstrates a message of self-love and self-trust.
In response to my video, someone wrote in the following question:
“This is making me think! So when does something like Whole30 become an eating disorder? Especially since it’s all about food freedom and many folks claim it transforms their relationship with food - also designed by someone with an addiction history. Maybe when you become obsessed with the rules, right?”
This is a great question — so great that I wanted to address my answer here. Because so much of this is addressed in Fueled+Fit.
When does following a food program become disordered eating?
For some people, rules provide not only structure, but safety and freedom.
Geneen Roth, binge eating expert, writes: "I stepped up to every challenge with enthusiasm, even reverence. I loved being told what to do. It made me feel that someone was in charge. Someone had assessed the situation, understood the mess I was in, and discovered the answer."
Many of us like rules because we don’t trust ourselves to create our own. But I wonder how much of that is programming versus truth?
What would happen if the rules were lifted? Would the levy break? Would utter chaos ensue?
Diet culture tells us that YES - if left to our own devices, utter chaos WILL ensue. We are not to be trusted with food, we are not to be trusted with our own bodies, WE NEED THE RULES.
(I think it’s important to add that childhood trauma and stress play into this need for rules and structure and control - it's like the perfect breeding ground for diet culture messages to take hold.
As Mary Caro May writes: “Some people grow up with chaos and survive by creating order.”
So if you find yourself getting excited about food rules, question why that is. How long as that been in play? Are you like that in other areas of your life, too?)
I think a large part of this whole food thing is to get people to come back to themselves, realize they are NOT a mess that needs to be cleaned up, and rediscover self trust. To get people to feel comfortable enough to say: "this is what's right for me, so this is what I will do - irrespective of what any set of rules is telling me".
A large part of the work that I do is getting people to think critically about their food - and to eventually create their own rules.
"the greatest teacher will send you back to yourself” -Nayirrah Waheed:
We MUST come home to ourselves to get the answers we need...and I'm not so sure following a hard and fast set of rules does that.
At the same time, we can't overlook the mess that is the food industry. We can't shove chemically addictive food down people's throats and then tell them "everything in moderation!" What's implicitly stated in that mentality is - if you can't moderate your food, it's your fault, and you are a lazy failure.
So I think embracing real food is an important step to honoring, respecting and trusting our bodies. But how to we make the shift without disorder?
In switching people over to a real food diet with the Fueled+Fit program, my work-around has been to create a food program with 3 levels, so there’s a lot of flexibility built into the program. This allows participants the freedom to make choices for themselves instead of following a set of rules that someone else mapped out for them.
We also can’t ignore the fact that some people have food sensitivities that need to be addressed in order to stamp down the inflammatory response and stress response of the body.
Some folks need to address these things in order to heal. Therefore Fueled+Fit has the option for a type of elimination diet. I’ve seen great healing with this way of eating, and I think it can be beneficial. For some people.
But I've also seen folks attempt it with a LOT of struggle. And I'm talking mental struggle here.
So how do you navigate that without restriction and disorder? How do you attempt to heal without spiraling out of control with RULES?
I was recently interviewed by Carrie Forrest on her Clean Eating for Women Podcast, and I talk about the serious issues with approaching healing protocols and elimination diets from a place of restriction.
It must be approached with love and gentle guidance. Part of the reason Fueled+Fit participants have access to me is so there can be some dialogue about the rules, about how people are feeling, and so they can assess in real time is this right for me right now?
And once you figure it out...you need to move on to create a diet that works for you. There truly is no ONE diet. There is only YOUR diet. Like my Erin Plan. Elimination diets (like Whole30) can be a means to figuring your plan out for yourself, but it shouldn't be the end game. In other words, if you are attempting an elimination - or other restrictive - diet, there needs to be an exit strategy in place.
So to answer the original question…
When you become hyper-focused on the rules, and allow the rules to govern your choices instead of your body or your common sense...there's probably some disorder in that. Or when a set of rules instills food fear (I will absolutely die if I eat a chick pea!!!!). Or when you feel guilt or shame for making a decision that is off-plan.
Now I’d love to hear from you!
Where do you sense disorder in your own eating habits or thoughts around food? Where do you see it in the world around out?
I am running my Fueled+Fit program LIVE one last time. If you want to get curious under the guidance of an experienced practitioner, be sure to sign up for March’s program!