What the hell is 'food neutrality'? 5 steps for putting food in its place!
So let’s start with answering the question ‘What is food neutrality?’ In a nutshell it means simply that there is no moral value attached to food. No food is ‘good’, and no food is ‘bad’. And therefore, everything is allowed.
Why is this important in intuitive eating? When we label foods with positive or negative terms, we often transfer that label to ourselves. We say things like ‘I have been good today, I had a salad for lunch’ or ‘I have been naughty, I had a doughnut for my snack’. But does eating a particular food really make you good or naughty? No, absolutely not. By making all foods neutral, we allow ourselves to eat what we really like without feelings of guilt or shame.
Food neutrality is not the same as thinking all foods have the same nutritional properties though. Of course, there are foods that are more nourishing for your body and are more beneficial for your health. But that isn’t to say that we can call the rest a bad name. What happens naturally when you become an intuitive eater is that you eat foods that make you feel good.
I have come up with a list of five things you can do and consider now to make food more of a neutral thing and put it in its place, so to speak.
1. Watch your language
This is a very important first step. Be curious about what language you use around food. Do you label things with negative words (e.g. ‘junk food’, ‘rubbish’, ‘naughty’, ‘unhealthy’, ‘bad’) or positive words (‘healthy’, ‘good for you’, ‘clean’, ‘treat’)? When you do this and you eat a food with a ‘label’, how does that make you feel? Do you take on that label for yourself? Do you engage in compensatory behaviours? I invite you to explore this for yourself and be curious every time you give food a label. Don’t be judgemental, just observe what is going on. My recent blog about role modelling covers some stuff about language as well!
2. Explore alternatives
Once you have a list of labels you use regularly, have a think about alternatives. If you want to describe a food, why not explore its texture, taste, or general properties? E.g. a ‘healthy’ salad could become a ‘colourful’ salad, a ‘naughty’ bag of crisps could become a ‘crunchy’ bag of crisps, a ‘treat’ could become a dessert, or an ‘unhealthy’ brownie could become a ‘gooey’ brownie. Have a play around with it, get your kids (if you have any) involved in finding alternative descriptions!
3. No food is going to make or break your health
No single food has that power! And even if you have a week of eating mostly beige foods, that is not going to make you sick. You might feel the effects though, and crave something fresh/green. That is your body talking. Over time, the balance of what you eat intuitively will ensure you get the nutrients you need. So, obsessing about having balance on a plate for each meal or compensating for a day of indulging in yummy foods is not helpful to develop food neutrality.
4. Check your shit list
We all have a shit list of foods – foods that we don’t allow ourselves to have, cut down on or exclude from our diet. There are many reasons for that, and it’s important to truly understand what it is that makes us not want to eat them. If you want to stay clear of things for environmental or ethical reasons, that’s of course absolutely fine. As long as you still try and see these foods as neutral foods, without putting a ‘health stamp’ on them. Bear in mind that a lot of so-called ‘healthier choices’ often come with their own caveats. Explore this!
If there are foods you don’t eat because you feel they will be ‘bad’ for you, go back to point 3 and then explore what you think will happen if you have them. Are you worried that you won’t stop eating them? Are you concerned you will put on weight? These points need further unpacking (get in touch with me if you want to delve deeper into this, sorting these worries out can make such a huge difference to your life!). But for now, be curious about what foods feature on your list and explore why you think that is.
5. Food is not the enemy
We assume food to have way more power over us than it should. It gets too much credit for being the culprit in all our worries, and by that becomes a worry in itself! The real enemy here, though, is diet culture! It tells us about the latest ‘superfood’ and explains why it is so ‘bad’ to eat [insert your latest scapegoat food here]. It also makes us feel bad, guilty and ashamed for eating certain things, it discriminates against larger bodies, it sells us diets that are highly unlikely to work and are likely to make us gain more weight and feel even worse about ourselves. Instead of vilifying food, we should take a closer look at diet culture’s oppressive ways and take a stand against being lied to. Read my blog about how to avoid diet traps for more on this topic!
These five points will help you develop a more neutral attitude towards food, which in turn will free up your time spent obsessing about it. It can be a challenging concept, but by being curious about your beliefs and the language you use around food, you can explore how you can move towards food neutrality. And remember, there are some foods that nourish your body and some that nourish your soul!
Right, my lovely readers, I am jumping off my soap box now and invite you all to get in touch if you have any questions!
I have a few workshops coming up over the next few months that tap into this topic and explore it in more detail, and I am always happy to book a 15 minute free discovery call to see how intuitive eating could change your life. If you want to dip your toes in, join my membership programme ‘Permission to Eat’ with weekly tasks, monthly talks and live Q&As.
Look after yourselves,