As human beings we like order, and as such we love to organize things. There’s no question that throughout the ages there has always been some form of order within tribes or governments, and most importantly, within families. These forms of order use different rules and regulations help keep everyone in check and living harmoniously. But what happens when these rules become too restrictive? What happens when the rules we live by begin to negatively affect our mental state and our bodies? Knowing when to throw your personal rule book out the window is the key to maintaining your sanity, and your well-being.
Naturally, after centuries or order, the thought of breaking the rules seems frightening. But part of the mission of the Diet Rebellion is to do just that. We are here to break some rules and challenge those culturally accepted norms. We stand for a flexible lifestyle and an accommodating routine. But in order to break the rules, we first need to understand the difference between a rule and a guideline.
Rules are strict. They are black-and-white and can be answered with a yes or no. When it comes to rules, there is often not a lot of room for variability. On the other hand, guidelines are more flexible. They have softer edges and the line is movable.
Personally, I’m not a big fan of rules. That is, unless there’s a fairly good reason for them. Many of my friends have children who are anaphylactic to nuts. Not allowing nuts into their home is a fair rule that everyone should have to follow. That’s a safety issue so you’ll have no argument from me.
As a culture, we have taken nutritional information and turned it into a bunch of rules. We look at food as good or bad, healthy or junk, clean or toxic. ‘Thou shalt not eat sugar’ has been a popular food rule, but even that ‘rule’ is unclear. Does that apply to honey and maple syrup, too? Or just refined sugar? What about fruit or grains? Where the line is, depends on who you ask, which is what makes this such a crappy rule. It’s not rigid and clear like a rule is supposed to be. If we can make up our own rules based on the information that research is providing, then why don’t we instead create fewer rules and more guidelines.
Let’s use the process of working towards a more ‘whole foods’ diet as an example. Very few people can successfully argue that a more ‘whole foods’ diet isn’t a good move towards health. Yet because there is such a varied interpretation of what ‘whole foods’ is, the diet can change considerably from one person to the next. Regardless, if you commit to a rule that you’re only eating whole foods (vs. ‘working’ towards more whole foods), then your lifestyle becomes increasingly restricted. When you formulate strict rules, you may have to forfeit social events altogether, or decline everything offered. This can easily cause unnecessary stress, tension and isolation.
When these food rules are instead treated as guidelines, some wiggle room is freed up. That means if you’re out and someone offers you something that doesn’t fit within that guideline, you can still go ahead and enjoy. You’re not breaking a rule, which means that there’s no failure and there’s no shame. You can simply enjoy, knowing that it’s only one meal, and only one moment in time.
There is a wonderful analogy that I like to use here; It came from Barbara Coloroso, an author on parenting. She describes three types of families: brick wall, backbone, and jelly fish.
The Brick Wall
The Brick Wall approach to life is the rule way. It’s tough and unforgiving. The rules are abundant and there is a lot of reprimand for breaking the rules. Often, when a rule is broken, it is met with stricter rules. When we apply this concept to food rules, it is likely to generate feelings of shame and anxiety.
The Jelly Fish
The Jelly Fish approach is the complete opposite – no rules. When thinking about food, this is the ‘eat what you want when you want’ approach. I see it happen when people get completely fed up with ‘failing’ at the rules and they just stop paying attention to their health.
The Backbone approach is my favorite. This approach is about having structure without losing flexibility. If your spine gets too rigid, there are many subsequent problems: pain, lack of mobility, difficulty sleeping, etc. Without a spine, you wouldn’t have any structure to your body, and you wouldn’t be able to get full use out of it. This is how I’d love for you to approach your nutritional needs. Yes, have some structure, and allow enough flexibility for life without feelings of guilt or shame. This flexibility is the key to eating a nutritious diet while occasionally indulging in chocolate cake for breakfast.
When you’re navigating a new lifestyle that you’ve designed for yourself, be very clear when you’re developing rules and guidelines. Make sure that your rules are there for a good reason. In my opinion, they should only be there to protect you or to ensure that something happens because it has to happen. The rules need to be very purposeful.
This week, I challenge my Rebels to change the way they define success. Instead of joining the strict sugar free diet, try to implement your own guidelines for sugar and learn to be conscious of how it feels in your body. As a guideline, work towards eating more whole foods, and don’t restrict yourself to eating only whole foods. If, on a particular day, you are in the mood for something that strays from your routine, those guidelines give you freedom. Freedom to find success in your lifestyle, and in your food choices. When you change your perspective, you take a step in the direction of personal growth. Keep both your mindset and your food choices flexible.
Until next time,
Live Life. Love Food. Be Free.
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