Do food rules play a part in your eating world?  If so, are you happy about that?  Or do they dominate you?  And how do you feel if you ‘break’ a rule – mischievous, naughty, or racked with guilt?

Perhaps you are unaware you have any food rules? Or perhaps you have deliberately eradicated all food rules and eat intuitively – whatever and whenever you want?

What intrigues me is how these rules develop, whether we are aware of our rules, and whether they are helpful to us.  And, what is our attitude to these rules? Do they cause us distress, or keep us on a wholesome path?

My clients, like all of us, are on a spectrum.  At one end is gentle structure to a balanced eating day, with no judgement or retribution.   At the other end is obsession with rules, fear of broken rules, and sometimes ‘punishment’.

If you are unsure of what I mean by food rules, here are a few examples: –

No rules Some gentle structure Strict food rules

Whenever, whatever, as much as I like


A few a day is OK, if I want 1 will allow myself 1, only after exercising
Carbs Whenever, whatever, as much as I like

Every day for energy and to fill me up


I have 1 weighed portion a day, whole-grain gluten free
Water Whenever, whatever, as much as I like

I know it is important, so I try to empty my big water bottle daily


8 glasses

Whenever, whatever, as much as I like


We have a few days without it a week, and have upped quality Absolutely not.  Bad for the body, bad for the planet.
When to eat

Whenever, whatever, as much as I like


Nice to have flexibility around mealtimes if my day allows


I fix my day around my meals
Eating in public

Whenever, whatever, as much as I like


Love a treat now and again

Look at menus ahead, pick the healthiest.  1 course.  Offer to drive back.



Where do you fit here?  Can you identify? And the crux of it all really – do you have peace around your eating?  Do your rules help you, or dominate you?  

This is what I help clients with.  And I think it is a lot about headspace, by which I mean how much thinking time does your food (and its impact on the body) take up?  I believe that people lucky enough to have an easy, loosely structured, relationship with food and their body, have just about the right amount of headspace dedicated to it.  This means some gentle guidance around when, what, and how to eat – a knowledge of what suits their bodies – awareness of ‘healthier’ foods and inclusion of them when they can.

I work with women who have too many food rules. Food rules that tend to have lots of ‘should’, ‘must’, ‘have to’ in them.  Lives that contain fear, guilt, judgement and sometimes punishment for rule breaking (such as purging, restricting, or over-exercising).   Eating and body size take up a lot of headspace.

I also work with women who have no, or few, food rules, and so truly little headspace taken up by food.  But not through a conscious decision to let go of the rules and become an Intuitive Eater, rather a lack of never having thought about what is going into their bodies – until, perhaps around mid-life, something has changed, perhaps a wake-up call, or weight gain for the 1st time.

In many cases the key to understanding how these different ends of the spectrum develop is to understand the client’s food world as they were growing up.  A strict environment, with pressure to achieve, and a dieting parent, explains a lot.  Likewise, it is easy to understand the impact of a more relaxed upbringing with more freedom and variety, and ease around food / body image.  And sadly, there are those bought up in such variable traumatic environments the impact on food rules can be unpredictable and chaotic.

So, do we want food rules in our lives? And if so, in what way? 

  • Language is key. I prefer the word ‘guidance’.  Not rules.  Rules cause controversy – are rules meant to be broken, or are rules there to provide structure, routine and boundaries?
  • Things have gone very wrong in our world where it is easier, and cheaper, to eat highly processed, fattening foods, all the time. And yet we are told to be thin. I believe that conflict is felt by many many women, every day.  This means to truly eat freely is incredibly difficult.
  • Even the Intuitive Eating movement incorporates the principles of ‘gentle nutrition’. To eat, in the long term, with complete abandon with no regard to structure, is perhaps an indication of chaos in life rather than a conscious letting go of rules.
  • For people wanting weight loss, to not have any structure in their eating is not realistic. However, this does not mean that rules need to dominate, and there are options around weight loss strategies.
  • Likewise, people suffering from chronic illnesses, such as T2 Diabetes, then the medical world may impose food rules for the benefit of the patient.
  • If you are lucky enough not to fall into either of these 2 categories, I do believe that some attention, focus and thinking to what we consume IS important for our wellbeing, both now and in the future. However, this can be done in a relaxed way, with understanding of generally what is beneficial for our bodies to consume.  It is different for every person. And it needs a big serving of self-compassion at every meal.  This is how I work with clients, this is what I do.  Gentle nourishment in a self-compassionate framework. 
  • My final thought is that it is not so much the rules (guidelines)  that are the problem, it is our ATTITUDE and RELATIONSHIP towards them.  All the kale in the world won’t do us any good if we feel stressed about it eating it. Our rules (guidelines) should take up a suitably balanced amount of headspace. 

I would love to hear from anyone who resonates with this.  

If you would like any help with your food or eating, I offer a free 30 minute online initial conversation, with no oligation.   

I help clients find a place where food and eating are balanced, peaceful, and helpful in their lives.   Please get in touch HERE or on 07972 374150

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