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Why you should break up with food rules

Nutrition can be confusing, and to simplify things, it can seem easy or even comforting to have black and white food rules to follow. But the truth is, food rules set people up for failure and ultimately do nothing to help you gain a healthy, balanced diet. I’ve talked before about why food guilt isn’t helpful, but it’s not always easy to ditch the rules.

A few weeks back, I read a great post on healthylittleeaters.com on food rules versus food values. I love the concept as a way of helping change thinking around food.

If you’ve lived by rules and lists of what you should eat and shouldn’t eat, then throwing them away can leave you feeling a bit stuck. On the surface, there is simplicity in following black and white rules. But this type of thinking rarely changes habits for long, and it can be detrimental. After having such a structure around what to eat, it can be hard to move to listening to your body. Switching rules for values is something that can help in that mindset shift.

Let’s say your food rule is you don’t eat sugar. At a birthday celebration, you eat a piece of cake. All you can think about is all that sugar you’ve just consumed when, according to your rule, you really shouldn’t have. And even though you may have enjoyed the cake, you are now consumed by guilt.

Instead of a rule around sugar, you might have a food value that says, “I’ll eat foods that make my body feel good”. That means you might eat lots of fruits and vegetables because you know you feel great when you do, but then you also allow yourself to eat cake because it is a source of pleasure.

Living by values, rather than rules, helps remove the guilt. You use your intuition to help guide your choices. Eating past the feeling of comfort becomes less likely because you want to feel good. There’s less chance of feeling guilty, as you’re not breaking your rules. Values provide a guide, rather than the rigidity of rules, and they focus on the big picture.

If you currently focus on rules to guide your eating, have a think about what these are. Sit down and replace them with some food values that can provide a guiding, flexible way for you to find a healthy way of eating.

Remember, it’s your body and you have your own food preferences and dietary needs. So ditch the food rules and eat in a healthy way that works for you.

First published: April 2017
Last updated: April 20 2017
Last science review: April 13 2017



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