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Are your food rules setting you up to fail?

Do you have any rules around food? Many people create rules for themselves around what they should be eating, when they should be eating and how much they should be eating. Food rules could include deciding that you will never eat before midday, that you will not eat any sugar, gluten, dairy or grains ever again or that you will not eat any carbs with dinner.

Now sometimes, having having strict rules around food like this can actually backfire and cause some very unhelpful behaviours around food. The reason for this is that rules cause our brain to think in all-or-nothing or black-and-white terms - so basically, we are either following the rules or we aren't. This can mean that the moment we slip up on one of our rules, we end up completely throwing all of the rules out of the window and going all out. Examples of some unhelpful behaviours that strict rules around food can cause, include:

- Turning down an invite to have dinner with family or friends for fear that the food served will break one of your food-rules but then feeling so down/bad about yourself for not being able to go out that you then end up over-eating on foods or bingeing on "banned" foods at home anyway.

- Having one "banned" food that violates your food rules and then ending up over-eating on or bingeing on lots of "banned" foods and feeling extremely guilty for doing so, often thinking "I have ruined this now, so I might as well keep going".

- Wanting to eat in secret or in private. If you have publicised your food rules to friends and family, they you may feel an immense amount of guilt and shame when breaking one of these rules so you may feel compelled to hide away when eating or only feel comfortable eating these foods in secret.

- Get stuck in a cycle of following the food-rules, breaking them and then promising to start again with the rules "tomorrow" or "on Monday".

- Feeling really anxious around certain foods or food groups and perhaps avoiding social situations, gatherings or other events where there may be pressure to eat any of these foods.

- Having obsessive thoughts about "banned" foods or about eating in time-periods in which you are "not allowed" to eat (e.g. if you have said that you will never eat before midday). These obsessive thoughts about food caused by the food rules can become all-consuming and take up a lot of mental space and energy.

So have a think about your food rules and ask yourself whether they are truly helping you or whether they are actually causing you to engage in some unhelpful habits around food. If you would like some help to break down your strict food rules and establish some new healthy and flexible habits in their place, then I have built an 8-week online programme to treat over-eating and binge-eating, that you can find out more about here:

“Life is a game. And like every game, it has to have some rules and restrictions and customs. But they are supposed to make the game interesting, not tiresome.”Shunya


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