"So much of our beliefs are shaped by the people around us, the books we read, or the advertisements we see. We don’t even notice what an impact they have on us”
"It was cool noticing how different things affect how satisfying food was over this week, didn’t you think?” asked Chaya as they started the session.
“Yeah, for sure!” agreed Leah. “But I felt bad when I couldn’t make my meals super satisfying. lt was like I failed myself.”
“That sounds like you’re starting to make rules around your meals,” Bracha started. “Which is just what we’re talking about today. Rules are beliefs or actions around food to dictate how we eat, instead of listening to our body’s needs. Can you think of any examples?”
The ideas came fast. “Eat bread only on Shabbos, or max once a day”, “Only drink water”, “eating at certain times of day”, “always have a vegetable at meals.”
“That’s a good start on some famous ones. Let’s get personal now. Take a moment and write down all the beliefs or rules you have about food, and how you feel about following them.” Bracha gave the girls time to think. “Now try to think back to where your rules came from.”
Shoshana raised her hand. “When I was six, I was at a family party and saw all the kids eating cake, but none of the older girls or mothers. I knew that meant I’d have to stop eating cake when I got big. So I did.”
Leah had a shocked look on her face. “I just remembered reading a kids’ book about scary carrots. I never eat carrots. I never even connected those two things!”
“Yes,” Bracha explained, “so much of our beliefs are shaped by the people around us, the books we read, or the advertisements we see. We don’t even notice what an impact they have on us.”
She continued, “The problem with having rules around food, even if they seem healthy, is that we’re not listening to our bodies’ needs. Like eating only at scheduled times or drinking only water — that’s advice to ignore your hunger and hold back from giving your body appropriate nutrition and fuel. And what happens when you can’t follow the rule? Maybe you don’t have any vegetables available, or you really don’t want vegetables right now. How do you feel or react when you break a rule?”
“When I went to my cousin’s wedding last year, obviously I had to eat at night, and I felt really bad for a long time whenever I remembered about it,” Shoshana said. “I couldn’t even enjoy dancing with all my cousins, I was so distracted and ashamed.”
Bracha nodded. “A lot of times we think we can fit in better with our friends if we have the same beliefs or rules as them. It doesn’t seem like that happened.”
“Oh no — I hate when my friends talk about food!” said Leah. “I try pretending to be interested, but come on! There are so many better things to talk about.”
“I totally agree,” answered Chaya. “Because I was always following different eating patterns, I didn’t want to bond over my latest craze. I talk to my friends about good books, the music we like, and different hairstyles. Food is boring.”
“I actually think my food rules are isolating me from my friends,” said Shoshana.
Bracha challenged, “How would it feel to break your personal rules?”
Chaya answered, “I’ve always envied people who can eat a sandwich or toast in the morning, but I’ve never allowed myself to have that. I’ll try that!”
Leah said, “I can try eating carrots again, even though it’s not technically a ‘rule’ that I avoid them. I’m kinda nervous though, so maybe I’ll try something like a pureed carrot soup. My mom is going to be so excited.”
“I’m going to eat chips straight from the bag,” Shoshana said, determinedly. “But I’m scared how my family will react to seeing me do that.”
“It sounds like you need to challenge the external food police. How can you phrase it to honor your body’s needs, while still being respectful?”
“I’ve actually talked to my mom about this and asked her not to make comments on what and how I’m eating now,” said Chaya.
Shoshana looked at her admiringly. “I wish I could do that with some of my family.”
“Try it first with someone who seems safe and will listen,” Bracha suggested, “and once you feel comfortable expressing yourself, move on to the more challenging people.”
Till next time…
Bracha Kopstick is a registered dietitian offering virtual nutrition counseling specializing in helping children and teens develop a good relationship with food and their body. She can be contacted through Teen Pages for more information about joining your own Intuitive Eating Workshop.
(Originally featured in Teen Pages, Issue 845)
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