It’s Time to Break Up…With Food Rules

By Grace Laman RD

How to Find the Joy in Eating Again

One of my favorite seasons here in the Pacific Northwest is fall because of the ample sunshine, late harvests and beautiful orchards that give us an extra “taste” of summer. When fall descends, it brings with it one of the most amazing, yet simple fruits from nature – the lowly apple.

Maybe it was picking fresh apples directly off the tree in my backyard and reveling in their crispness OR maybe it was memories of my mom’s famous apple crisp baking in the oven OR maybe it was learning that a small apple has 5 grams of fiber and only 80 calories while in graduate school for nutrition – whatever it was, somewhere along the line, apples became less of a healthy snack option and more of a rule I needed to follow. s. Really, it started as I was finishing my graduate degree in nutrition, where my food rule around apples grew. I ate an apple every day around 1pm. .

a bowl of apples

One day, we were making ice cream in our food science lab, while every other student enjoyed their ice cream, I refused. Stepping outside of myself in that situation, I thought “you love ice cream, why wouldn’t you eat ice cream?” I knew that I had an apple in my backpack and even though I was hungry and wanted the ice cream, I told myself to wait and make the “healthier” option to eat the apple. The second time I knew my rules around apples had gone too far was just a few weeks later when I had gone on a road trip with my husband. We had stopped at a gas station to get snacks – he picked up our usual choices: chips, nuts and a candy bar. I, on the other hand, chose a semi-fresh green apple from a pathetic woven-grass basket by the cash register. “You don’t even like green apples,” I thought to myself as I paid the cashier. Yet, twenty minutes later, I was staring at the core of the green apple in my hand while my husband enjoyed his more palatable snacks.

I realized that apples were no longer a food I enjoyed but a rule I followed. This pattern of an apple a day continued for the next three years! I realized this had become a RULE in my life. And, for me, it was not the only one that I uncovered as I evaluated my “healthy habits.” Those habits - using a small fork instead of a big one, not eating chocolate after 4 pm, only eating brown rice because white rice was the devil – these weren’t healthy habits that turned into rules that could not be broken. These were rules and they were limiting the joy, pleasure, and simplicity I used to have around eating.

Food is always a choice, yet when we create rules around what we should and shouldn’t eat, we can take it too far. This happens easily in our diet obsessed culture. Concepts like “clean eating” and the many many diets out there have led to the development of a new type of eating disorder known as orthorexia nervosa. Orthorexia is characterized by an obsession with healthy foods and a fear of unhealthy foods.

So, here are some RULE-BREAKING mantras for any of you that may be identifying that it is time for you to break up with your own food rules:

  • Enjoying your food is worth more than the calories or the nutrient content.

  • Your body knows what to do with all foods, trust it.

  • We all have the power to redefine what we believe; you TOO can see things in a different way.

  • Shift to a present mind set – don’t let your past or future define what you are experiencing in this moment – enjoy the tastes, smells, sights and sounds each and every time you eat.

Rules were meant to keep us safe so we can enjoy life, not take away the joy in our lives in order to feel safe. It’s time to break up!