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Intuitive Eating Principle: Challenge The Food Police And Transform Your Inner Critic

Last updated on October 24, 2020

Have you ever had a rebellious thought around food? 

Perhaps you even had multiple voices and thoughts. First, you may hear a nagging voice saying “Don’t eat those fries, that’s bad! Eat that salad, that’s good!”

Then another more angry voice might yell, “Screw it! I’m gonna eat those fries!”

These nagging and angry voices are some examples of what is known as “The Food Police” in Intuitive Eating lingo. 

This article will review The Food Police, the different types of Food Police voices, how to challenge the Food Police voices, and the types of transformation you can expect.

What Are the Food Police?

food police cartoon with police telling people who eat and people figuring out the police was actually a nutritionist

Are you confused by this cacophony of inner voices and want to start challenging the Food Police?

Then learning where these voices come from is an important first step:.

The Food Police actually have been created by our diet culture. Our culture has emphasized short-term weight loss and restrictive eating for centuries (yes – centuries, read Anti-Diet by Christy Harrison)

We get these messages of short-term weight loss and dieting everywhere – in the media, from parents, doctors, and movies.

These messages become strict rules in your head, like “I ate too much for lunch so I have to skip dinner.” 

They are the rules that are black and white, either / or, pass or fail type of thinking.

The term ‘Food Police’ was popularized by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch in their philosophy of Intuitive Eating.

In Intuitive Eating, principle 4 is what’s known as Challenging The Food Police.

What Are Different Types Of Food Police?

You may have many internal voices in your head that are yelling at you, critiquing you, or saying other things about your food choices. 

Generally speaking in Intuitive Eating philosophy, we can think of “The Food Police” as symbolizing the collection of negative inner voices.  And these inner voices can be grouped into 3 primary categories:

  1. Food Police
  2. Nutrition Informant
  3. Diet Rebel

Please note that I’m using the term The Food Police in two ways — one as an overarching symbolic term, and one that is a more specifically defined component as described below. 

And also note that there are some other types of voices that you can have in your head. However, seeing how these 3 operate is a good starting place.

(After we review these 4 voices we’ll examine what they turn into, and, in the final section, how you can challenge the Food Police.)

Food Police

The Food Police is basically your ‘main’ inner voice that sees things in black and white. Overall this type of thinking creates a harmful relationship with food. 

This voice says that you are either good, or horribly bad. You either succeed, or your failures are evidence that you are a guilty, shameful person. 

If you eat healthy, you are good. If you eat slightly unhealthy food, you are bad.

The Food Police also is an authority figure with ‘food rules’ to follow:

  • You ate too much for lunch so you have to skip dinner
  • You lost control so now you need to discipline yourself with 60 minutes on the treadmill
  • It’s not time to eat yet even though you are hungry
  • You already had a fat today, no more fats even if you want them
  • No eating in the evening after dinner

This type of black and white thinking blocks you from your inner ability to eat intuitively and have a peaceful relationship with food.

 Nutrition Informant

An informant is someone who is hidden and then whispers and spills the beans to the authority figure. 

In this case the authority figure is the ‘Food Police’ and the Nutrition Informant is the little quiet voice in your head that whispers for you to eat healthy.

This ‘informant’ voice is tricky because it is hidden. It sneaks around and whispers to you to be healthy – which seems like a good thing! 

But the informant doesn’t listen to how your body feels and doesn’t consider your mood, emotions, or preferences. The informant is on the lookout for ‘crimes’ of unhealthy eating so it can report these crimes to the Food Police.

Then the Food Police can judge you and shame you.

Here are some manifestations of the Nutrition Informant:

  • Counting calories
  • Tracking macros
  • Eating sugar free foods
  • Eating fat free foods

Do you see how this voice appears to be concerned about your health?

Suppose your body says to eat a cookie and you listen to it and that’s what you want, then in reality you can have a cookie. 

However, the Food Informant would ‘tell’ on you no matter, even if you had listened to your body before eating a cookie.

Diet Rebel

Finally, we have the diet rebel. 

The diet rebel is sick of all the judgment from and authority of the Food Police. The diet rebel is furious and angry about the tattle tale, nagging, subtle nature of the nutrition informant.

Now the diet rebel is going to take over and get back control – LOUDLY!

The diet rebel is going to scream!

  • I am going to eat whatever I want and screw these rules
  • I don’t care! I’ve already failed today so why not eat everything in sight!

Sometimes though – oftentimes at night when nobody else is awake – the diet rebel is more sneaky and very persuasive:

“Everyone is asleep, why not break the rules and have a few cookies? Nobody will know.”

Consequences Of The Food Police, Informant and Diet Rebel

There is a very common phenomenon called the ‘what-the-hell’ effect which has been studied scientifically, and it’s also something that Evelyn Tribole talks about extensively as well.

Basically the Food Police, informant and diet rebel cause you to self-sabotage.

The Food Police create these impossible rules. The informant tricks you into thinking it’s on your side and whispers that you should try to be healthy and follow these rules.

But these rules are too tough. Nobody can follow these rules. So your diet rebel gets really pissed off.

Eventually you slip up and then what happens is this well-known ‘what-the-hell’ effect.

Since you already ‘failed’, what the hell, why not just go all out and eat everything in sight?  

In this type of mentality, even 1 calorie over the limit is a failure. And 5000 calories over the limit is still a failure too. There’s no difference. A failure is a failure.  You mentally flog yourself no matter what.

Of course, there really is a big difference between these two examples.  But when you follow these inner voices it’s hard to stop self-sabotaging and beating yourself up. 

Fortunately, you can transform these inner voices into more positive voices. 

In the last section we’ll briefly cover some strategies on how to transform these negative inner voices into positive inner voices.

However, it’s very likely that you will need to work with an eating therapist who can model these positive voices for you in real time during a private confidential conversation.

An eating therapist can help you immensely with transforming these inner negative voices collectively called ‘The Food Police’. 

What Do The Food Police Transform Into?

food police types

Just as the term ‘The Food Police’ symbolizes the collection of negative inner voices, the term ‘Food Allies’ is a phrase used to describe the positive results of shifting to Intuitive Eating. 

The language around ‘food allies’ is part of the Intuitive Eating principle 4 challenging the Food Police.

When you learn Intuitive Eating, you can begin to transform the negative energy trapped in these negative inner voices into positive energy.

This positive energy and these positive voices are then collectively known as ‘Food Allies’. 

Here are the 3 Food Allies:

  1. Food Anthropologist
  2. Nurturer
  3. Intuitive Eater

Food Anthropologist 

The Food Anthropologist drops the police analogy!

An ‘anthropologist’ refers to a scientist who objectively looks at past human behavior.  

Imagine an paleontologist unearthing a dinosaur, how they would talk. The anthropologist would be very objective. 

  • “Here is where we found …”
  • “This was seen here …”

Do you hear the very matter-of-fact tone?Let me know in the comment section below or email me at jared@eatingenlightement.com. You can also let me know what your overall thoughts are about the principle 4 challenging the Food Police.

In terms of food, the Food Anthropologist functions similarly — it is your matter-of-fact voice that describes food and your food behavior with neutral observations. 

When you practice mindfulness and other tools, the judgment from the Food Police turns into this neutral ability to observe.

With this neutral voice, you can begin to see your eating patterns without falling into the trap of shame or judgment. 

You’ll be able to objectively notice:

  • Hunger 
  • Fullness
  • Cravings
  • What you ate
  • How you feel after you eat

This voice allows for greater understanding overall.

Nurturer

The Nurturer is kind and gentle. 

This is why an Eating Therapist or counselor is so useful, because you can get coached on how to speak to yourself in this nurturing manner.

This nurturing voice is sort of like what it feels when you have a really safe, close friend who is just conversing with you. 

Or, a parent or caregiver who is available, present and connected who speaks to you in reassuring tones.

Here are some examples:

  • “I overate today and don’t feel well. But instead of beating myself up I am going to rest and think about what led up to me overeating.”
  • “I am going to let myself have a cookie today because it’s been a long day and I deserve it. I’ll stay connected and present as I eat.”

Overall, this Nurturer is the voice of compassion. It’s a big component of making peace with food.

Just like how the anthropologist is the positive counterpart of the Food Police, the gentle nature of the Nurturer is similar to the quiet, hidden nature of the Informant.

But the Informant remember doesn’t pay any attention to you, or how you feel. It doesn’t offer reassurance or forgiveness.

The Nurturer does forgive, it is kind and, most of all, it pays attention to what you feel and need.

Intuitive Eater

Everyone has an Intuitive Eater voice within them.

(Side note – there is a concept in some religions called ‘original sin’. Yet in other religions there is this notion that ‘everyone has enlightenment within them’. Enlightenment gets covered up for various reasons, but deep down it’s there.)

Basically, you have a ‘gut instinct’. And it might seem like your gut instinct is horribly confused and betrays you all the time.

But that is actually not your true gut, your true Intuitive Eating voice. 

It’s hard to imagine what your Intuitive Eating voice sounds like when you are trapped in the midst of food addiction, binge eating and emotional eating.

However, as you progressively learn to shift into the positive voices and learn Intuitive Eating, eventually you do come to discover that your true gut was there all along – it was just covered up by your past beliefs and habits, things you learned from the evil diet culture.

Now that we know about the Food Police, and what transforming the Food Police looks like, let’s examine how to actually challenge the Food Police!

How To Practice The Principle 4: Challenge The Food Police

Here are some strategies you can incorporate to begin challenging and changing your Food Police mentality.

  1. Become Mindful Of Your Food Police Thoughts: The first part is simply identifying what you are thinking! There is a voice in your head when you eat or think about eating. What is that voice saying? Sometimes it can help to use a journal to write down and catch your thoughts, because you may be thinking negative perfectionistic thoughts without even realizing it!
  1. Observe These Thoughts Without Any Judgment: Realize that you absorbed these thoughts innocently as a child and while you were growing up. The fact of that matter is that culture plays a big role in the thoughts we have. So these crazy thoughts in your head are not your fault. You simply have them. See if you can just notice your thoughts without reacting too much. For example, if you are beating yourself up, just saying “Wow! I am beating myself up right now.”
  1. Use “And” Thinking: One way you can begin to challenge the Food Police thoughts is by saying “and” after the thought. So in step 1 you wrote the thought down. Now you add “and” after it. For example, here is your thought: “I am a hopeless food addict” AND “I can change my thinking over time.”
  1. Think Of Other ‘Normal’ People To Challenge Your Food Police: If you have a thought that you can’t have a cookie, perhaps you can reference a friend who wouldn’t give two farts whether they ate a cookie or not. See if you can put yourself in someone else’s shoes and imagine what they would say.
  1. Use Affirmations Based On Your Experiences: Instead of saying “No I can’t have a cookie” and leaving a thought unchallenged, see if you can recall instances where you did have a cookie and were fine. Then use that memory to create an affirmation. For example, “There was a time when I was feeling content and I ate a cookie mindfully and I didn’t lose control. This is possible.”
  1. Directly Challenge Negative Thoughts: Replace the “I am a failure” thoughts with other thoughts like “I temporarily failed but I learned a valuable lesson.”
  2. Remember This Is A Process: You are going to have these negative thoughts. They aren’t going to go away right away. So don’t put pressure or expect these negative thoughts to disappear. The more you catch, challenge, and practice reframing the easier it will become. This is a journey, don’t forget that.

With that being said, please remember this is just an overview of how to challenge the Food Police. It’s understandable if you feel overwhelmed if you actually try this by yourself. 

On another note, leave a comment down below with what idea most resonated with you!

You can do this!

If you are curious if you have Binge Eating Disorder, please take this short 8 question quiz.

The quiz questions are based on medical criteria used in treatment settings to diagnose Binge Eating Disorder.


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