Are Old Diet Rules Getting In Your Way?

In a recent workshop, one of the participants brought up the fact that she sometimes doesn’t like to eat leafy greens because they remind her too much of her dieting days. Whenever she eats greens (salad in particular), she feels what she used to feel while dieting — restricted and annoyed, and even a phantom-like feeling of hunger.

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How many of you can relate to that feeling? I know that I can.  When I first started working with the concept of intuitive eating, I felt like I was fighting a never-ending battle with a variety of food rules, even food rules that conflicted with one another. I had spent significant portions of my life as an Atkins dieter, an Overeaters’ Anonymous member, a low carbohydrate vegetarian and a Weight Watchers’ points aficionado. As you can imagine the Atkins part of me and the low carb vegetarian part of me had some things in common but highly disagreed with the Weight Watchers’ point keeper and the O.A. dieter! Did I believe in low carb or low fat? Was a scooped out bagel a good choice or a terrible one? Was I overdoing the olive oil or should I slather it on?

And while I have come to terms with my diet rule demons, as a counselor who often talks about intuitive eating, I can run into some problems. I’m often asked about what foods are good to consider when you’re suffering from low energy, but whenever I talk about food in this way, I often have to work my way around my own fears of sounding like a Weight Watchers or O.A. leader. Whenever I talk about leafy greens and added fiber and drinking adequate water, I get a creepy feeling that I’m imposing food rules on my clients, even though I have no intention of doing so. To me, I care more about how my clients actually feel when they eat certain foods than how they should feel or what they should be eating.

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Diet rules impede intuitive eating because they stop you from connecting with your body’s wisdom. Whether you’re confining your eating habits to old diet rules or avoiding food that reminds you of your dieting days, you end up being a slave to diets. I’m sure that wasn’t (or isn’t) your intention if you’re trying to break away from diets.

So here are some tips for letting go of old diet rules to make way for a more connected, body-centered way of eating.

1) Get Clarity — Take a moment to write down all of the diet rules that still haunt you. They may be conflicting, nonsensical, or sometimes sort of sensible. Whatever they are, get them all out on paper. Then decide if any are worth keeping. Only keep the ones that really honor your body and its changeability — such as getting adequate water, avoiding allergenic foods, stuff like that. Throw out any rules that limit the types of foods you can eat (unless you have allergies or other health concerns) and definitely toss the calorie and carb counting.

2) Listen To Yourself — We all have a voice within us that tells us what foods nourish us and advises us as to our hunger and fullness. Note, we ALL have this voice. Sometimes this voice has been stifled by pushy parents or diet rules or our emotional torment, but trust me, it is there. Take steps to actively listen for this voice. Honor it no matter how quietly it speaks. If you think you heard it and turned out to be wrong, listen for it again tomorrow. Trust me that it is safe to trust yourself.

3) Pay Attention — Notice which foods feel best to you. Do you like a muffin and coffee in the morning or an apple and almond butter and tea? Does it depend on how much sleep you got, how much stress you’re under? What time of year it is? Are comfort foods comforting sometimes and sometimes not so much? Notice the effects on your energy levels. Notice comfort and discomfort.

Continually repeat the above to get better and better at tuning in.

In truth, the only rule is that there are no rules. You make the rules.

Golda Poretsky, H.H.C. is a certified holistic health counselor who specializes in transforming your relationship with food and your body. Go to to get your free download — Golda’s Top Ten Tips For Divine Dining!

3 replies on “Are Old Diet Rules Getting In Your Way?”

This is a great post. I know someone who is on this hard core absolutely ZERO carbs and ALL fat and protein, as in it’s okay to eat a pound of bacon or eat straight lard but not a serving of whole wheat pasta. It’s completely counterintuitive to me, because I think everything in life is about balance, including your diet. To me, the biggest problem is that she is asking people to follow the diet with her, be her “diet buddies,” if you will, and then yells at them, literally YELLS at them when they fall off the bandwagon and eat something carby. I feel bad for the women who agreed to be her diet buddies, because while they want to be supportive of her efforts to lose weight and be healthier (not that I think this is healthy in any definition of the term), the diet simply isn’t working for them and they shouldn’t be bullied into it.

I used to find myself susceptible to other peoples’ eating rules. I ate more meat when my mom started The Zone Diet. I ate more cheese when I moved in with a roommate who ate a ton of it (oh, hey! That’s how I found out I can’t eat cheese!). Another roommate had horrible dieting issues and I seemed to absorb those feelings about food as well (cue an issue with bulimia). Reading magazines about dieting seeped into my mind and I felt guilty for not ordering salad and grilled chicken at lunch. Another roommate was vegetarian so I stopped eating as much meat (also found out that is one way to get anemia! Fun!).

In the past couple of years (coinciding with living alone, a key step I think) I’ve started trying to eat things that just make me feel good. I like making things from scratch, the act itself is satisfying so processed foods are no longer part of my regular eating habits. I like buying locally grown/raised products. I’ve also put down the guilt associated with liking mayonnaise, avocados (whole ones, I eat a whole one and feel no shame) :) egg yokes, olive oil and bread. I’ve also put down the guilt in eating starchy foods like potatoes. God damn, I love potatoes.

When I go out to eat now with people, I order what I want without asking what others are getting. The feeling is so liberating.

The only rules I want to follow are 1. Eat what you can so you don’t need a multivitamin and 2. Eat what you can so your brain will run right (fats, sugar and water are key here).

It helps that I HATE HATE HATE artificial sweeteners and hydrogenated fats. I can actually taste them in my foods. Gah. Splenda is my mortal enemy.

Building your own dietary habits feels so key, so natural and yet, so unusual now. It seems that everyone needs to become classified into a particular diet (usually one with a book and premade foods). It appears there is no money is tailoring a diet to fit a person but there sure is a heck of a lot of money in tailoring a person to fit a diet.

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