Part Two: Food Rules vs Food Preferences

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 concludes her two part series on distinguishing between food rules and food preferences.

Read Part One of Jennifer’s series HERE.

So, how do we untangle the difference between preferences and rules? This can be tricky at first, particularly in early recovery when everything about us feels like a result of the eating disorder. But, this is not true. We are way more than the eating disorder, and we have preferences for a variety of aspects of life, we just need to create time and space to reconnect to them.

When we live from the place of preference, we are in our center, tuned into our inner wisdom. When we live from preference, we assert self-assuredness; there’s little need for debate. We know what we know to be true because there’s nothing to argue about. It is what it is–literally!

To determine the difference between a food rule and preference, try this short Yoga-inspired practice:

When making a food choice, observe in yourself your reaction. This includes your physical response, breathing, thoughts, and emotions. If your body tenses; if your breathing turns shallow, fast, or is barely there; and/or if your thoughts and emotions jump on the eating disorder track, then you are working from the “food rule” space. If, on the other hand, your response to a food is more a instantaneous, natural like “Oh, I like that” or “No way, I don’t like that food,” and your physical, mental, and emotional state is not much altered, you are likely in the preference space. Observe your reactions to gauge which is at play.

Then, “find the ground,” meaning, get grounded, centered, present to the experience and moment. To do that, connect with time and space through your feet and hands. Feel your feet on the ground. Sense the connection between your feet and the surface under them.Trust you are steady and supported. Rest your hands on a hard surface, your body, or press one into the other to create grounding in your upper body. You can do this seated or standing, or if you are in a private space, you can rest on your back and allow the floor to support your entire being. Take a 3 to 5 slow purposeful breaths in this grounded position. Notice your inhale and exhale with each breath.

If you determine you are in a “rule space,” take 5 to 10 (or more!) slow purposeful breaths to interrupt the spinning thoughts and then proceed when you’ve gained some clarity about the best choice to make for yourself.

If in the “preference space,” take 5 to 10 (or more!) slow purposeful breaths to simply notice your natural inclinations and honor that you do indeed exist outside the identity of an eating disorder. Perhaps write down your preferences as you encounter them to reinforce these self-directed aspects of yourself.

If you are unsure which space you are in–rule or preference–notice that too. Give yourself time to take 5 to 10 (or more!) slow purposeful breaths in this grounded position and see what bubbles up. There’s no right or wrong here. Often, it takes time to reestablish our trust in our capacity to have preferences, and so distinguishing them from rules in and of itself may be process that takes you time and patience. A few quiet, purposeful breaths can do wonders in allowing our inner wisdom to come back online. Trust you will get there.

I recommend you repeat this exercise daily to get in the practice of differentiating between preferences and rules, with the intention of tuning into and honoring your preferences more and more.

Our preferences are like an internal compass. When we respect our preferences, we respect ourselves. We assert our humanity. We express wholeness and freedom. We embody our inner wisdom. Your preferences for food and all things deserve your attention and to be cultivated to the fullest.

This article originally published on the Chime Yoga Therapy Blog.


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