Food Rules and Why They Don’t Matter

Macros. Calorie counters. Keto. Intermittent fasting. All of these seem to come with their own set of rules about food. When you’ve got foods that are off-limits or don’t match the rules of the diet, you end up with your own internal food rules that can RULE your life. Food rules can be totally unnecessary. 

If I’m being honest with you, food rules sound so depressing. And isolating. And wow, I have to give up a lot of my day or social activities to follow food rules just to achieve my weight loss goals? Yuck! So… why do we even care about food rules? 

For starters, following rules has been ingrained in us since we could walk and talk. Things like “don’t touch the hot stove” or “follow the leader in line” or “mind your P’s and Q’s” are all rules and manners that have been beneficial for us to learn in life. However, these rules are also learned behaviors! This means that the thought patterns that result in those actions come naturally to us now… and we don’t tend to think twice about them! 


What would life be like without rules?

Rules were obviously made and meant to be followed for a reason, whether it is to be polite, responsible, or safe! So why are food rules so different and, at times, so unnecessary? 

Well, food rules tend to define what (and how and when) we eat, but they can also inadvertently create a tunnel vision effect. This tunnel vision reinforces the idea that if we follow these rules, we will be successful! But somewhere along the way, we forget why these rules were created… to keep us safe, healthy, and responsible! 

When we accept food rules set by others, we tend to accept the reasoning behind the rules too. But what if the reasoning isn’t beneficial? What if they don’t keep us healthy and energized? Well…then they could just be someone’s opinion or someone’s own food rules that are meant to benefit themnot you

When this happens, we can end up thinking these rules seem to be the only way we can be successful in our goals. Not true! Those rules end up being restricting, limiting, or downright absurd. They may tell you everything you can’t eat or maybe even tell you that you can only eat during a certain window of hours a day, etc. 

Though rules can be helpful to keep us accountable to our portion sizes, calorie goals for the day, or even just the amount of water we drink, rules can also exclude our ability to be flexible and individualized to our lifestyles. Most negatively, food rules can suck the FUN out of our lives while we achieve our weight loss goals!

How do we know which food rules to follow?

We don’t!

Well, let me rephrase… the food rules we should follow are ones that encourage us to stay on track with our goals, stay satisfied, and also help us continue to have the freedom to have FUN. And the best part about the food rules we should follow? They should be created by YOU. 

One of the biggest things I teach my clients is how to determine what foods are most important to them, and do away with what’s not serving them. By creating these “rules” they are able to determine what they need to have and what they don’t need. This helps them lose weight and keep it off while feeling like they make their own rules! Here’s some examples of things that you can swap out to reach your weight loss goals if they don’t make much of a difference to you: 

  • soda –> diet soda. 
  • chips–> minimally processed popcorn or crunchy veggies 
  • regular ice cream –> light ice cream 
  • processed white grains such as white rice, white pasta, white bread –> whole grains that are full of fiber 
  • candy –> lightly sweetened and lower-calorie candies like Smart Sweets and Lily’s chocolates
  • sugary coffees and energy drinks –> black coffee with flavored collagen powder or sugar-free energy drinks 

These swaps aren’t MANDATORY, but they can help you reach your weight loss goals by decreasing calories and getting the same flavors, textures, etc! No rules, just choices. 

Food rules are all over social media

Food rules are commonly presented in social media and influencers as recipes for disaster. These rules can also promote unnecessary anxiety and guilt if you happen to fall off the wagon and “break” a rule! You may see food “rules” such as: 

  • Don’t eat anything after 8pm
  • Skip breakfast to save calories for the rest of your day
  • Cut out all sugar, carbs, and alcohol
  • Skip the salad dressing
  • Eat lots of small meals only

But these weight loss rules above have been proven again and again throughout research, behavior change, and thousands of people to NOT work for weight loss! And though I can’t speak to whether or not research shows how much fun the people following these rules have had, I can guess that following these food rules don’t seem to include fun in them either! 

Ultimately, I am convinced these rules are meant to be broken by YOU and YOUR GOALS! Why? Because these rules promote an all or nothing approach, which makes it seem like if you “break the rules” you will fail your weight loss goals. So not true!

So what if your “food rules” didn’t have to be an all or nothing approach? What if they were flexible and individualized to your goals? Would they still be “rules” then? 

Probably not. 

And that’s EXACTLY why I don’t care about food rules! 

So how does this apply to me?

Determining your own rules for weight loss can be the perfect, (and most importantly) flexible way to reach your weight loss goals and KEEP the weight off. But if we take a step further and actually start investigating the food rules that are currently ruling your life and your weight loss journey, we may decide we need to break up with them after all! 

Finding what works best for YOU will always result in more success than following others’ rules. 

If you’re not sure where to start, let’s chat! I know first-hand how hard navigating weight loss goals can be on your own. Click here to learn more about my clients’ success breaking up with food rules.

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