Have you ever noticed yourself thinking that you should or shouldn’t eat something? Does that voice in your head have rules about food or bodies that you are supposed to follow? We call that voice the food police. And they can be doing more harm than good.

Who are the Food Police?

The food police is the name the Intuitive Eating framework gives to the voice of the diet rule enforcer. The food police can exist as a negative voice in our head or be heard from people we interact with. Regardless of where the food police come from, they can make us feel guilty or anxious about our food choices.

Internal Food Police

The internal food police consist of the thoughts and feelings you have about what you eat. They’re the voice in your head that says things like, “You shouldn’t eat that,” or “You’re going to have to workout tonight for having that cookie.” This type of self-talk is never helpful and only leads to feeling negatively towards food and ourselves.

External Food Police

The external food police are voiced by people in our lives who comment on our food choices. This food police voice can come from anywhere: family, friends, teachers, doctors/healthcare providers, co-workers, and so on. For example, a grandmother may discourage her granddaughter from eating seconds. Or a friend might comment that ordering dessert too often will give you diabetes. While they may have good intentions, these comments make us feel judged for our choices.

Where Do These Beliefs Come From?

We are not born thinking negative thoughts about our food or bodies. Those types of beliefs are developed over time through the environment we grow up in.

Society and Media

Many of our beliefs about food are shaped by what we see and hear in society. Our Western culture at large values thinness and “healthy” eating. A fat body is seen as a moral failing and said to be caused by eating the “wrong” food.

When it comes to food media and advertisements, certain foods are promoted as “healthful,” “nourishing,” and “cleansing” while others are labeled as “sinful,” “a guilty pleasure,” or “cheat day” foods. 

This creates unrealistic standards for foods and bodies and causes us to feel guilty for eating foods that aren’t deemed acceptable or perfect.

Family and Culture

Our family and cultural backgrounds also can play a significant role in shaping our beliefs about food. Some families have traditions and beliefs about what is acceptable to eat, which can be passed down from generation to generation. These beliefs can sometimes make us feel like we’re breaking the rules when we choose to eat differently.

The Power of the Food Police

The food police can hold a lot of power over us. The guilt, anxiety, shame, and regret associated with eating foods deemed “bad” can lead to a very unhealthy relationship with food – a relationship that can harm our physical, mental, and emotional well-being.

The food police can cause us to restrict our eating or compensate with dangerous behaviors for what we ate. The food police can make anxiety and depression worse.

The food police strip the fun out of social events, celebrations, and holidays by causing us to always “be careful” with our food choices. We may even skip these events all together and feel isolated.

When we listen to the food police, we end up feeling unsatisfied with our eating. Food is no longer enjoyable, social, or fun. It is something to be meticulous and anxious over.

Ways to Challenge the Food Police

It’s essential to learn how to challenge the food police in order to work towards a healthier relationship with food.

Understand Your Own Beliefs

Start by paying attention to your own thoughts and feelings about food. Are you being hard on yourself for eating something you enjoy? Where did that thought or belief about food come from? How is that thought/belief making you feel? Is it helping or hurting you?

Give Permission

If you’ve been waiting for someone to give you permission, here it is! You have permission to eat ALL foods. No food is either good or bad. No one food is going to heal or hurt you. You have permission to eat foods you enjoy and are nourishing to you body and soul. As long as there is permission, the food police can no longer sentence you with a guilt trip.

Practice Fact Checking

Analyze the validity of the food police’s voice. There are many ways to do this. You can fact check with your personal experience, with research from a reputable source, or with logic. 

For example, the food police may say “You shouldn’t eat those holiday cookies, you’ll get diabetes!” After fact-checking that statement, you might say “In the past when I’ve eaten cookies I didn’t immediately get diabetes. In fact there are lots of people in the world who eat sweets and never get diabetes.”

Create Positive Memories with Food

Creating a positive experience with food can help rewrite the story with that food. While giving permission, practice eating a “challenging” or triggering food in a way that promotes enjoyment or fun. For example, if eating a pastry is guilt-inducing, plan a pastry and coffee date with a supportive friend or practice eating this food with a trusted healthcare provider, such as your nutritionist or therapist. 

Set Boundaries with External Food Police

Talk to the people in your life who make judgemental statements about how their comments affect you. You can set the boundary that you would rather not receive comments about your food or body and that it is important for you to make your food choices based on what feels right for you.

Surround Yourself with Positive Influences

Spend time with people who support your journey to a better relationship with food and are not judgemental about your food choices. Surrounding yourself with positive influences can make it easier to challenge the food police.

Seek Professional Help

If your relationship with food is causing you significant stress or impacting your well-being, consider seeking professional help. The nutrition providers at Rooted Path Nutrition can not only provide guidance and support, but can help you fact check and be an example of the positive and nurturing voice needed to challenge the food police. Reach out to us here to see how we can help.

Final Thoughts

The food police, both internal and external, can have a significant impact on our food choices and our overall well-being. It’s essential to recognize these influences, challenge the negative beliefs, and give permission with our eating. Remember that food should be enjoyed, not a source of guilt or anxiety. By defying the food police, you can foster a healthier and more positive relationship with food. So, the next time you want a cookie, go ahead and shush that food police voice and enjoy it guilt-free!


By Riana Giusti, MS, CN