Jennifer Kreatsoulas, PhD, RYT 500, is a yoga therapist specializing in eating disorders and body image. She is coauthor of the forthcoming book, Body Mindful Yoga: Create a Powerful and Affirming Relationship with Your Body (Llewellyn Worldwide, 2018). In addition to her private yoga therapy practice, Jennifer leads yoga therapy groups at the Monte Nido Eating Disorder Center of Philadelphia and yoga workshops and retreats on eating disorder recovery and body image. She is a partner with the Yoga and Body Image Coalition and the Transformation Yoga Project. Her writing on the topics of yoga, body image, motherhood, and eating disorder recovery can be found on her blog as well as several influential online publications. Connect with Jennifer on her website. In this week’s post, Jennifer discusses differentiating between food rules and food preferences.
Navigating our food decisions, thoughts, and behaviors is outright exhausting. I can remember the early days and years of recovery feeling so wrung out by the end of the day from the sheer energy it took to choose, create, eat, and digest meals and snacks. All of my energy was directed at eating in some way, shape, or form. The barrage of what, when, and where to eat banged around my brain constantly. The “games” of If I eat this, then I can’t eat that, blah, blah, blah, rarely turned off.
Yet, strongly competing with all this “noise”–the constant calculating and planning and worrying–was my heartfelt desire, or intention, to be whole and free for myself and my family.
Like an internal compass, this intention for wholeness and freedom has guided my healing path in empowering ways. Early on it took diligent practice to proactively confront fear and make choices that aligned with my intention instead of mindlessly giving in to habitual eating disorder patterns. I thank my Yoga practice for assisting me in fostering the internal awareness required to wake up to destructive habits and then cultivate the courage and strength to integrate new life-sustaining patterns.
One very crucial awareness I committed to developing was the difference between my food preferences and food rules. Food preferences, our genuinely natural likes and dislikes, are self-directed. No strings attached. Our preferences represent a pure inner wisdom programmed in our nervous systems. Food rules, as you know, are driven by the opposite of inner wisdom; they are born of a variety of factors, including social and cultural messages, fear, control, and power.
Food preferences are neutral in nature. Although you may have a strong visceral reaction when you see or smell a food you naturally like or dislike, your body’s response comes from a neutral space. Whereas shuttering or freezing in fear at the smell or sight of a food for which you have strict rules is not neutral. The reaction is charged with layers of emotions and triggers that initiate spinning thinking. The rules and our reactions to them throw us off center, sending us away from self-directed inner wisdom into the jungle of eating disorder mayhem. The ground beneath us is nowhere to be found as we obsess on rules–breaking them, keeping them, rationalizing them, creating new ones, etc.
Food rules (both those we internalize from social messages and the eating disorder programming) barricade us from wholeness and freedom. Our rules are prisons. Luckily, these prisons of ours lock from the inside, meaning we have complete and total power to unlock the cell door and take a chance on living self-directed rather than rule-bound. I don’t make light of what it takes to even consider unlocking the prison cell in the first place, let alone opening the door and taking a step forward. I can also attest to the fact that it is possible to leave the prison and not look back.
This article originally published on the Chime Yoga Therapy Blog.