Rules Are Made to Be Broken
Diet culture and diet wolves in health sheep clothing have given us all some pretty crappy rules and beliefs around food and our bodies.
I love to poll people, Family Feud style, at my events with the following question: What are some health rules you’ve heard, whether you ascribe to them or not?
I furiously write on my flip chart as answers are thrown out and then compare their rules against my established list of food rules. They get a <ding ding ding!> for the ones that match up with what I’ve already got. I then add the rules that were not already on my compiled list TO my compiled list… so you can see how this list is continually growing. Things that are on the list already are statements like:
If you’re hungry, drink water first.
Don’t eat after 8 p.m.
Avoid gluten, dairy, and meat.
Stick to clear liquors and avoid wine.
Wine is an antioxidant and you should have a glass a day.
Eat organic because conventional is going to give you cancer.
Intermittent fasting is the best way to eat.
Black pepper is bad for you.
Coconut oil is the BEST fat to add to your diet.
Coconut oil is the WORST fat to add to your diet.
etc. etc. etc.
When I first begin working with a new client, I ask her to divulge her food rules to me. Sometimes, she says she doesn’t have any, which is—though she doesn’t mean to lie to me—a lie. She just doesn’t yet KNOW that she has food rules, because she is under the illusion that she is free (and possibly practicing intuitive eating). But then she starts telling me about her struggle with Oreos, and we enter into breakthrough territory.
None of us would struggle with Oreos if we did not have rules associated with Oreos.
We have been taught by 100 calorie snack packs and sugar-free, fat-free Snackwell’s cookies that Oreos are BAD cookies. We have been led to believe that white potatoes are inferior to sweet potatoes, and so sweet potato fries are the healthier choice that we must pay a surcharge for at our favorite restaurants. We believe that if we chow down on a ton of bread at the end of the day (when we’ve been so so good all day long), we have failed because WHY can’t we control ourselves???
When we eat more Oreos than we intended to, we’ve unknowingly entered into a battle between the unconscious mind and the conscious mind. The goal we’d laid out was one or two Oreos, and before we know it, the whole sleeve is gone. Mystified, frustrated, and pissed at ourselves, we blame our lack of will power and we blame our parents or the food system or our education for letting us down. And we blame ourselves.
I’d like to present a case for you that suggests will power (or a presumed lack thereof) is not something you need to be getting mad at yourself about. The reason you eat a whole sleeve of Oreos (or insert the food that gets you down when you can’t control yourself around it OR you feel guilty if you chow down on it) is not because you lack will power.
Which means we need to talk about will, in general. According to research by Lüder Deecke what’s happening when we are faced with a decision is a joint process of your conscious, awake mind (in your frontal cortex), which is what truly allows you to be FREE, and your reptilian, lizard, fish brain that resides in the spinal portion of the brain, the unconscious mind, which is where data reduction and preconscious filtering is taking place.
According to Deecke, the conscious mind and the unconscious mind exist together; the unconscious mind being something of a precursor to the conscious mind. Your freedom from, or your prison made up of, these food rules is 100% in your mind.
Much of your unconscious mind is formed while you’re a young thang; it’s taking notes during your entire upbringing. Like I have a VERY vivid memory of finding a box of fat-free Snackwell’s cookies in my grandmother’s cabinet when I was probably 8 or so, and thinking I could eat, like, a ton of them with no problemo because this was the 90’s and the wave of FAT IS BAD was hitting the nation. Already these little patterns had been formed in my subconscious. Snackwell = better choice than Oreo. GOT IT!
The unconscious mind lays the groundwork for consciousness, from where you are armed with reasoned, free will.
So, food rules = deep in the recesses of your subconscious along with some that live in your conscious mind.
The food rules are the very ones that make you struggle with your Oreos.
Moreover, without motivation or strong emotion, our brains don’t really register new information/learned behavior/new unconscious patterns.
Your conscious mind is working to embrace intuitive eating. So you now know Oreos aren’t off limits. They aren’t bad for you. But your unconscious mind believes that Oreos ARE bad for you. And you have a bunch of stored physical and emotional memories in which you binged on Oreos and felt insanely guilty about it afterwards. That strong emotion helped you to form a more ingrained belief that Oreos are bad, because after a whole sleeve your blood sugar went haywire and so did your guilt levels.
It ain’t a struggle of will. It’s a struggle of heart and spirit and values. If you value being thin, as diet culture and the foodtriarchy profess, then your spirit and heart will feel broken that your will was not strong enough to resist the Oreos.
It’s only natural that you’ve rebelled against your food rules (conscious or unconscious). After all, rules are made to be broken.
This is why I devote so much time to work with my clients in stepping into Wild Abandon, and it is key to begin to watch your thoughts as they come up around food and body. When the post-Oreo feelings arise, take note of the emotions, and really ask yourself WHY you feel like shit. What supposed food rules are you mad at yourself for breaking, and instead of just stopping there and inviting the cycle to repeat itself, rethink it. What would you have rather done? What rules are you done with living by, and what freedoms do you want to invite in?
What if you thought, instead, “Oreos are damn delicious. And I can have as MANY of them as I want. If I am present to the experience and savor each bite, how much joy can each Oreo bring me?!”
As Carl Jung said so beautifully, and it truly sums up the entirety of this writing: Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will dictate your life, and you will call it fate.
What food and body rules are dictating your life?