8 signs you’re trapped by food rules (and how to break free with intuitive eating)

diet mindset food rules intuitive eating principles of intuitive eating Sep 14, 2020
Making food choices to lose weight

Even if you’re not *officially* on a weight loss diet, you could be stuck in a diet mindset with food rules you don't realize you have. 

The food rules of diet culture dictate how to eat to lose weight or maintain it. Eating for "health" has the same goal in mind, which includes food rules that are part of a wellness lifestyle.

Food rules might make you feel like you’re in control. Yet the truth is, when you listen to someone else's ideas about eating, you disconnect from your body's wisdom about what, when and how much to eat. 

The more you focus your attention on external signals and cues about food and eating, the less in tune you are with your body’s signals. This traps you in a cycle of not trusting your body’s desires for certain foods and could lead to restricting and bingeing behaviors. 

Not sure if this fits?

It's all laid out below in the 8 signs that your food rules have you stuck in a diet mindset. 

Then, discover how intuitive eating resolves the conflicts of food rules by eliminating them all together. 

1. You follow a list of good vs bad foods


Having a list of foods that you should and shouldn’t eat can impact your health and your self-worth. 

This involves judging yourself as good or bad by what foods you buy and eat. When you eat from the healthy list, you feel good about yourself for making the “right choice.” Eating "junk food" makes you feel guilty, like you’ve done something “wrong.” Inevitably, you'll promise to be “good” again after “slipping up.”

This all-or-nothing thinking doesn’t allow room for flexibility, including personal food preferences. It also fails to consider the uniqueness of individual nutritional requirements. Instead, the good-or-bad list turns food into a moral decision reflecting your personal character. 


Without the labels of good and bad, food is just food. Viewing all food neutrally as “food” removes the stress and judgment of choosing the “right” vs “wrong” food to eat. Intuitive eating helps you make peace with food by considering all foods as options when deciding what to eat. 

2. You choose foods by calories, carbs, or fat grams


Choosing foods based on the macros or calories reinforces the belief that there are good and bad foods. Plus, focusing on carbs, fat and calories makes food all about weight loss. In other words, if foods have “too many” calories, carbs or fat grams, they’ll make you gain weight so you shouldn’t eat them. And, when you do eat something carb-y, fatty or high calorie, the threat of gaining weight causes you to judge yourself, your willpower and your ability to control yourself around certain foods.

Not to mention, diet fads come and go. Today's carbs? Cancelled, whereas the anti-fat era flipped the script. Calorie counting also cycles in and out of fashion. This means that eating based on a fad doesn’t take into consideration you or your actual dietary needs and preferences. 


When you stop listening to the noise about keeping score over your food choices, you can tune into what your body wants to eat. Intuitive eating reconnects you with your ability to select foods that feel satisfying and nutritious, rather than eating foods based on their numeric value. 

3. You eat by the clock


It doesn’t matter if you’re hungry or not, you have a set schedule for eating. Instead of trusting your body’s hunger signals to tell you when to eat, you’ll put off a meal or snack until a specific time. 

This food rule can leave you second-guessing your hunger and fullness signals based on the clock. For instance, you might wave off hunger signals if you think, “I just ate two hours ago, I can’t possibly be hungry.” Even if you’re not hungry yet and the dinner bell rings, you might eat anyway because it’s what you’re programmed to do.


Honoring your hunger and fullness signals isn’t attached to a schedule. Having an unconditional permission to eat gives you the freedom to take care of your body’s needs as they arise. And, as you get used to doing so, you may even find a natural rhythm emerges of meal-and-snack times based on your body’s own clock.

4. You restrict your food and end up bingeing


While a hallmark of dieting, you don’t have to be on a diet to restrict your food. Simply having a diet mindset and food rules promotes food restriction. This includes portion control, skipping meals, eating reduced-calorie foods, and anything else that deprives your body of the food and nourishment it needs. 

Restricting the types or amounts of foods you eat often leads to bingeing behaviors. You might think that bingeing is a sign of overeating. Actually, it's a response to restricting your food intake. When you ignore or suppress your natural hunger signals, you’re likely to end up bingeing and may even feel out of control around food.


Kicking your food rules to the curb stops the cycle of restrictive eating and reduces the likelihood of binge eating, depression, low self-esteem and even eating disorders. Rejecting the diet mentality frees you from restrictive food rules and helps you feel relaxed and peaceful around food. 

5. You embrace a healthy lifestyle plan


Wellness lifestyles are sneaky. They might renounce diets as unsustainable, while also providing a plan designed to get you “healthy” by dropping "extra" pounds. To do this, healthy lifestyle plans end up being diets in disguise with lists of healthy vs unhealthy foods and other food restrictions. And, where there’s restricting, bingeing on so-called “bad” or off-the-plan foods can result (along with feelings of shame and guilt). 

Following a plan that limits food choices – even in the guise of health promotion – is another way food rules can disconnect you from your body’s ability to guide what, when and how much to eat. 


The best wellness plan is flexible and one that you design in cooperation with your body, its needs and desires. Your body’s nutritional and self-care needs change. Developing an ongoing relationship with your body through the tools and principles of intuitive eating offers the flexibility you need to make appropriate food and lifestyle choices that are just for you.

6.  You’re cleansing, detoxing, fasting or “rebooting”


Cleanses, detoxes, fasts and "reboots" are very strict, time-limited eating plans that go hand-in-hand with wellness lifestyles. The general premise of these plans is to rid the body of toxins for the benefit of health. Often, these programs label body fat as a toxin, resulting in get-thin-quick schemes that are no different from diets. 

While there’s debate about whether detox practices are even helpful or necessary, the main issue is the strict dieting mindset. In other words, unless you’re perfect, you fail. And if you fail, you remain toxic (and it’s your fault).


What’s actually toxic are food rules, no matter how they're packaged. Instead, honor your health with gentle nutrition. Rather than eliminating foods from your diet, add nourishing foods into your meals. Enjoy the taste of fresh green juice and how it makes you feel? Great, then drink it just for that.

7. You change how you eat around others


Judging yourself by what you should or shouldn't eat in front of others is a sign of food rules. If you want others to perceive you as "healthy," you might choose foods based on that label. Around others, you might even eat less than you normally would to feel satisfied.

Making food selections based on what others may think puts diet culture in charge of your food choices and how you should feel about those choices. This takes the focus away from sharing an enjoyable meal with others. Instead, you're likely to feel stressed if you worry that others will judge your food choices and how much you eat.


Saying goodbye to food rules and a diet mentality helps you relax around food. Attending to the pleasures of a meal and the satisfaction of eating allows you to sit back and enjoy the experience of eating with others. 

8. You exercise for weight loss


For many, exercise is often an extension of food rules.  The primary reason for engaging in physical activity becomes burning fat and calories for the sake of weight loss. 

Exercise is also used as a punishment to “cancel out” what you’ve eaten. Had a chocolate chip cookie with lunch? Work it off at the gym by running an extra half-hour. This reinforces the idea that food is all about calories and macros that you can make disappear with enough cardio or weight training. 


When exercise feels like a punishment for what you eat or how much you weigh, you miss out on the true benefits of moving your body. Instead, find physical activities you enjoy simply because it feels good to move your body. 

Food rules and food policing are products of diet culture that disrupt the connection you have with your body. 

You might not even be aware that you’re living with food rules that dictate how you think about food, what you choose to eat, and how you feel about your body and yourself.

Intuitive eating releases you from the diet zone and restores your connection to your body’s wisdom about food choices and eating. When you’re free from food rules, you can finally create the healthy and compassionate relationship with your body that you deserve. 

Want help getting unstuck from food rules? Here’s your first step...

Schedule your free consultation and let’s start planning how you can become an intuitive eater.

Like this article? Check these out...

Confused about intuitive eating? Busting the top 10 myths

3 reasons why you’re holding out for weight loss