Ever been around a toddler? Or better yet, tried telling them what they should or shouldn’t do?
We have a running joke in our house. It goes like this, If I tell my 2 year old to go to the bathroom he 100% of the time stubbornly tells me, “I don’t want to go to the bathroom.” Even if he clearly needs to pee. But then my husband or my father-in-law chime in, telling him “Judah can’t go Mom, but I’ll go.” Instantly my son rises up and runs with vengeance to the bathroom screaming, “No, I’ll go potty.”
We attribute this little happening to reverse psychology, but the same principle is also called a paradoxical injunction in psychology and restriction mindset in intuitive eating. When we tell ourselves not to do something, not to eat something or when we set a rule for something, we tend to focus more on that thing and if we focus long enough we inevitably end up doing it.
When it comes to food, when we set rules for what is clean, good, right, or pure to eat and what is bad, junk, unclean, or unhealthy to eat we often catch ourselves vacillating between feelings of food deprivation and maybe even pride over our “clean” eating and then towards bingeing and/ or misplaced guilt and shame over food.
Make Peace With Food
Principle number three of Intuitive Eating is about stopping this cylce, and it’s my favorite one.
The authors of Intuitive Eating, Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch write this about principle number three: Make Peace with Food.
“Call a truce, stop the food fight! Give yourself unconditional permission to eat. If you tell yourself you can’t or shouldn’t have a particular food, it can lead to intense feelings of deprivation that build into uncontrollable cravings, and often, bingeing. When you finally “give-in” to your forbidden food, eating will be experienced with such intensity, it usually results in Las Supper Overeating, and overwhelming guilt.”
This, and the following principle of intuitive eating, shutting out the food police are my favorites for a couple reasons. One, as a dietitian, I was trained to help people eat “perfectly” to help others finally attain “clean” eating and so I found myself in a big old ditch struggling with this principle and disordered eating habits related to clean eating.
The second reason I love this principle is it’s the one the bible has the MOST to say about (and the next one, stay tuned for this Friday’s post on that).
Clean eating is so rampant in our culture, we don’t even think of it as dieting. Many people would agree with the first principle of intuitive eating, diets are unhelpful, but instead they’ll recommend a new form of restriction — clean eating.
There are several problems with this. One, there is no such thing as perfect clean eating, some foods may work well for one person, and for another they won’t. Secondly, obsession with clean eating usually results in eliminating more and more foods until we end up with symptoms very similar to anorexia, i.e. unhealthy weight loss, fatigue, digestive issues, poor circulation, etc. And although it currently doesn’t qualify as an Eating Disorder as far as insurance coverage goes, orthorexia is still a life-threatening condition that deserves help!
Even if a full-blown eating disorder doesn’t develop, having food rules about what is good and what is bad all of the time often leads us to undereat and then eventually overeat or binge on fear foods. Whereas, when all foods are permissable, we tend to eat the amount our body needs and experience less food worry and preoccupation. Food preoccupation is a concern because it increases the stress load on the body which is tied to all sorts of health problems.
But maybe even more convincing than all of this is that “clean” eating is contrary to the gospel. Jesus declared all foods were clean when he came, fulfilled the law, died and rose again for our righteousness.
Jesus Made all food clean
In my book, Grace, Food, and Everything In Between I go into great detail about this point and about the way in which grace transforms our view of food, our bodies and movement. I can’t wait to release it to you guys this holiday season, BUT until then, let me leave you with the following scriptures that point to ALL foods being good and permissable for us to eat.
“Don’t you see that nothing that enters a person from the outside can defile them? For it doesn’t go into their heart but into their stomach, and then out of the body.” (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean.” Mark 7: 18 - 19
In the same way that new believers in the early church were not required to be circumcised which was a jewish law, we are no longer led by old jewish food laws. We are led by the Spirit of God, and He guides us in all things. Christ declared all foods are clean for us to eat, stating that it is not food that defiles a man, but it’s the things that come from his heart that are more important.
“I know and am convinced on the authority of the Lord Jesus that no food, in and of itself, is wrong to eat. But if someone believes it is wrong, then for that person it is wrong.” Romans 14:14
In this passage in Romans Paul urges believers not to judge each other for what they do or don’t eat, but states that he is convinced that all foods are good to eat. Interestingly he makes the point that if one believes certain foods are wrong to eat, then for that person it is wrong. I see this all of the time. When we believe that a certain food is unclean or bad or wrong to eat, then when we eat it we feel guilt and shame, and it distracts us from God and his wonderful grace. How amazing would it be if we, like Paul, could come to the revelation that no food is bad and no longer feel guilt or shame over eating.
“Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron. They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth. For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer.” 1 Timothy 4: 1 -4
Here Paul warns about false teachers whose own consciences are seared (in my opinion with shame they haven’t given over to christ) who will try to lead the church astray by teaching them that they have to uphold religiously imposed restrictions like abstinence from marriage and restriction of foods that God created to be enjoyed by those of us who know the truth. He goes on to say that all of God’s creation is good and nothing is be rejected if received with thanksgiving.
These are just a few scripture verses that I believe point towards our freedom with food.
There is also the vision Peter experiences in Acts 10: 9 - 16 where he sees previously “unclean” animals come down from heaven and hears God tell him to arise, kill and eat. When Peter objects to eating “unclean” foods as per the Jewish foods laws, God tells him not to call anything He has made clean, unclean. This vision has a double meaning since soon after Peter is called to go and eat at a gentile (non jewish) man’s house, one who before Christ, was considered “unclean.” Peter ends up sharing the gospel and the man and his whole family believe in Jesus and are saved.
Peter would likely have had to share food with the gentile man and his family, and that food probably wasn’t Kosher. If Peter had believed that the man or the food were still unclean for him to associate with He may never have been able to share the good news of Christ with the man and his family.
The Gospel + Freedom are greater than Food
Many will say that these issues are secondary and unimportant. And compared to the good news of Christ’s death and resurrection which payed for all of our sins and sets us free to enjoy relationship with God, I tend to agree, food is of little significance compared to this truth. However, if we are living in bondage to food worry and preoccupation over every ingredient and morsel that enters our mouth then food is keeping us from experiencing full freedom in Christ and it IS important to talk about.
We are free to eat all foods. If you don’t feel good eating a certain food, or you’re allergic to it, you’re free to not eat it too. But by all means, don’t let the lie that only some foods are good and acceptable rule your life.
The more we allow ourselves to enjoy all foods in amounts that fuel and satisfy us without guilt, the more energy we’ll have to focus on what matters, the less stress we’ll have and the better we’ll be able to take care of our bodies. Leaving cycles of rules, restriction, guilt, shame and/or bingeing behind and pressing forward into freedom.
If this post blessed you or freed you up just a little bit, would you share it? And then tell me, how does this truth set you free? What does letting go of clean or “perfect” eating make room for God to do in your life? And if you missed last week’s post on hunger, make sure to check it out!
Until next time, stay nourished spirit, soul AND body.