Why We're So Desperate For "Food Rules"

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“I just need someone to tell me what to eat” is something I hear a lot in this business. And turns out there’s some really good reasoning behind it!

But it can also set you up for major pitfalls. Make sure to catch my 5 tips for creating your food rules at the end so you can move forward without failure!

Dieting is tough. Adopting changes in your food choices means you have to create a pattern interrupt roughly 3-4x PER DAY to be successful. That’s a lot of work.

You know how people find it so hard to quit smoking? Well, a big part of that isn’t just the addictive substance - it’s the fact that cigarettes integrate themselves into so many daily habits. Morning coffee. Lunch time. Mid-afternoon break. Just got off work. Just finished dinner. Heading off to bed. 

When you take away the cigarettes - these other actives STILL EXIST. Which leaves us feeling a trigger to engage in the old behavior even when we really, really want to quit. 

It’s no different with food. 

Think back to your last meal. Did you really choose what to eat? Or was it perhaps a more automatic choice based on the 2 or 3 typical breakfasts you have? My guess is the latter is likely more true. 

Our brains have become VERY good at automating daily tasks and responses. We are, in a very real sense, creatures of habit. (Yes, even you, adrenaline junkies and sky divers!) 

So - when we add rules to our diet we give ourselves ways to navigate making these new food choices, making it less “work” for our brain to decide what to eat. It’s sort of like gutter guards at the bowling alley for our brain. It helps us "stay in our lane” with our new diet. 

So, “rules” can be helpful, especially when you’re first starting out. 

However, the way rules are structured can play a big role in how your brain interprets food as well. By setting a food as “off limits” we naturally place more value on that food. When we decide to eat it we get a lot more of a reaction, usually a higher level of enjoyment. Then we also suffer a much lower “low” when we interpret that choice as guilt, shame, or weakness on our part. 

The most interesting part to this story is that we experience that HIGH and LOW only because of the arbitrary rules we applied to ourselves. We wouldn’t get the same joy out of eating the cake if it wasn’t “off limits” just like we wouldn’t suffer the same guilt or shame afterwards. It’s only because we did something rebellious that we have this whole roller coaster reaction!

So finding a good balance between “gutter guard rules" vs “food roller coaster rules” can be VERY important to set you up for success when you’re trying to change your diet. 

Here are a few surefire ways to structure your new “food rules” for success: 

  1. Remember that they aren’t rules - they’re guidelines. There will always be an exception to every rule, especially when it comes to significant and emotional foods or events. 

  2. Focus your rule on the “cans” instead of “can’t”s. 

    1. Good Food Rule Example: I can eat all the vegetables. I can eat healthy fats. Etc. 

    2. Bad Food Rule Example: I can’t eat sugar. I can’t eat carbs. 

  3. Make your rules a CHOICE. You know that die hard vegan? They choose NOT to eat animal products (and tell everyone). How you word things, matters. 

    1. Good Food Rule Example: I don’t eat processed sugar. 

    2. Bad Food Rule Example: I’m not allowed to eat processed sugar. 

  4. Make sure your rules help you navigate your choices. They should be broad enough that if you find yourself at a restaurant or coffee shop you have some idea of what you would and wouldn’t order to stay on track. 

  5. Know why your rules are your rules. Friends and family members will ask you about your choices when they find out you’re trying something new. If you don’t know WHY you’re not eating processed sugar, it’s going to be that much harder to fend off Aunt Irma and her famous chocolate cake with guilt ganache. 

So, are you ready to write your own food rules? Go for it! I would LOVE to hear them.

If you find this helpful make sure you join my newsletter for more great information on how to change your health and fitness once and for all - AND to join in on my upcoming crash course: "Why Move More and Eat Less Has Failed Us All”. 

Have a question? ! I’d love to hear from you by email at Ashley@AshleyBrownFitnessNutrition.com OR on Instagram at @ashleybrownfitnessnutrition.

Ashley Brown