Category Archives: Food

Food rules you can break (part II)

*This is the second post in a three-part series on common food rules that, while seemingly harmless or even healthy in theory, are confusing to the body’s biology. Understanding food rules, where they come from, why we have them, and how we can break them is important in learning how to rediscover your ability to eat intuitively and find freedom in food. 


Last summer we were at my parents’ house for a barbecue. All the good stuff was on the menu: burgers, hot dogs, chips, salads, fruit, all the fixin’s, beer, soda, iced tea, lemonade. Classic summer eats, warm weather, and lots of family. Everything was spread out on the table, free to grab as you pleased to fill the belly. Except for one thing. This one little item was still inside on the counter.

The brownies.

The brownies were for after dinner, as my daughter found out from Grandma when she asked Grandma if she could have one. So Haley ate her dinner and asked again for a brownie. The answer was no because dinner wasn’t over yet; people were still eating. Haley waited and waited, hovering around the brownies like a fruit fly waiting for her chance to land her hands on one. She tried not to ask too many times if it was time for the brownies yet, but it was hard because even when people seemed to be done with dinner, she still had to wait until Grandma was ready to serve dessert.

After all the barbecue food and accouterments were put away, out came Grandma with the plate of brownies! *cue angel choir*

But Grandma said, “Wait just a minute,” because she had to get the napkins and the forks. I thought Haley might actually explode from anticipation.

Finally sweet Haley got the go ahead for a delectable, gooey, chocolate brownie. She thoroughly enjoyed every bite, except for the bits she left all over her face.


No dessert until after dinner. This is a common rule in our culture that goes back decades, maybe even centuries. I don’t know. But, it’s a man-made rule with the intention of getting children to eat their “healthy food” first before filling up on dessert. That’s still the intention today; however, I think it’s sometimes used as a tool for control and power at the dinner table.

The problem with this rule is two-fold:

  1. It creates the mentality of a food hierarchy–> certain foods (e.g. fruit, veggies, meat, etc.) are better than other foods (e.g. brownies, cookies, ice cream, etc.). The “healthy” food goes on top and the “unhealthy” food–all the foods with sugar and fat–go on the bottom.

2. Fun food goes on the bottom, yet this rule also places desserts on a pedestal. Dessert is          something to be earned, to obtain after you’ve worked to eat through the hard food, the              good food, and because so, it becomes a desired prize. Dessert holds great value mentally.

So this rule actually has a third problem: it’s confusing! If dessert food is so “bad” then why do we have to work so hard to earn it? Why does it get a special place in the meal? Why is it treated with such specialness?


“No dessert until after dinner” has no biological logic. We seem to care when we eat dessert, but the body doesn’t. Food is nothing more than nutrients to your body. If you feed yourself broccoli and steak, then your body reads fiber, protein, fat, iron. When you feed it brownies and ice cream, it reads sugar, fat, vitamin D, and calcium. These are all nutrients. You can dip your broccoli in your ice cream for all your body cares. Your body doesn’t read or categorize food on a hierarchy; all food has equal value to the body depending what the nutrients do. If all you’re eating is salad and beef jerky, it’s going to ask for a sugar and fat source, (you might start craving brownies and ice cream) so your body can level out the playing field again.

To break this rule: put all the food on the table–entrees, sides and desserts. This practice gives you the the option, opportunity, and mental permission to eat all the nutrients equally without the mental anguish of having to eat through certain foods to earn others.

Our dinner table from the other night. Hubz was still finishing up the steak, so it isn’t pictured.


This doesn’t just go for dessert after dinner, by the way. This applies to all our rules about when we can eat certain foods. We have strict rules about what we can have for breakfast, right? We tend to tell ourselves and our kids, no ice cream or chicken nuggets or pizza or whatever the forbidden food for breakfast. Again, your body doesn’t care what time it is when you feed it certain foods. If bacon and ice cream sound good at 8:00 am, go for it. Your body gets fat, protein, and sugar to get the engine running. Great!

That’s great and all, Leanne, but if I put brownies on the dinner table then my kids will fill up on brownies and nothing else. What about that, hmmm? Or a bowl of ice cream before school isn’t going to fuel them for their math test. 

So? They have brownies for dinner.  They’ll be hungry again later and tomorrow and the next day. You keep offering different food options (from all categories) any time they eat. Over time brownies (or whatever the dessert) lose their value, become less interesting when they’re always available. Your kids (and you!) will begin to balance out your plates. They won’t have brownies for dinner forever. As for breakfast, just offer some protein to help support the ice cream. For two months straight, Haley ate chicken nuggets and chocolate ice cream for breakfast. It was the perfect meal for her, and it held her over until snack time and sometimes even lunch, in which she’d have another opportunity to get other nutrients. And eventually, she got tired of chicken nuggets and ice cream for breakfast. She moved on to other things. Kids are the BEST intuitive eaters when we grown ups don’t interfere with a bunch of food rules.


I challenge you to try breaking this rule: no dessert until after dinner. Practice putting your forbidden or prized foods on the table with your other foods. I know it seems weird and maybe even scary, but remember that nutrients are nutrients for your body. You’re just giving you and your family the opportunity to get all of them on an even playing field. Over the next few weeks, notice how the attitude (yours and your family’s) and value towards dessert changes.

P.S. Anyone else craving a brownie right now? 🙂

Food rules you can break (Part 1)

*This is the first post in a three-part series on common food rules that, while seemingly harmless or even healthy in theory, are confusing to the body’s biology. Understanding food rules, where they come from, why we have them, and how we can break them is important  in learning how to rediscover your ability to eat intuitively and find freedom in food. 


One of the most common food rules we have, much to every child’s chagrin, is we must finish everything on our plates.


Do you have this rule? Can you articulate why you have this rule and why it is necessary to finish everything on your plate?

If the answer is because you don’t want to waste food, that is an absolute valid thought; however, an easy solution is to save for later what you don’t eat now.

Is this a rule you grew up with , so you just follow it because eating everything on your plate is what you’re “supposed to do”? Not everything we were told to do as a kid is the best instruction; it’s okay to change or ditch the childhood rules.

You don’t have to finish everything on your plate! (If this is a rule you have with your children, I am going to respectfully beg you to ditch it.)

The problem with this rule is your brain forces you to ignore your body when it says, “I’m full.” The focus of the meal becomes eating everything in front of you rather than eating to satiate hunger. It’s easy to overeat because you don’t stop when you’re actually full. Instead you wait until all the food has been eaten, which can be long after your body has had enough. You end up feeding your body more than it needs and more than it can metabolize before you sit down to the next meal. When the body becomes overwhelmed with more than it can use, guess what it does? Yep. Stores the excess in added weight.



First, practice assessing your hunger level. In Resch and Tribole’s book, Intuitive Eating, they discuss the hunger scale that goes from zero to 10. A level zero means you’re starving–running on empty; you’re so hungry you have the shakes, a headache, feel faint. You might not even feel hungry at this point because your body has “all hands on deck” to keep your brain functioning. Conversely, level 10 means you’re so full you feel sick; one wrong move and it might all come back up. Ugh.

Ideally you want to start reaching for food when your hunger is right around a level three or four. This will feel different for everyone, but for me I feel:

  • my belly grumbling
  • the thought of a particular food sounds good
  • a little dizzy
  • hiccups in my ability to think clearly

Notice what a level three or four hunger level feels like for you and maybe even write down what you are feeling. When you’re at level three/four, try not to wait until you’re starving to eat because by that time your body has moved into deprivation mode, which means you’re likely to overload your plate to begin with, feeling like you won’t be able to get enough food!

Once you know you’re comfortably hungry, the second step is to fill your plate to satiate. When you think about the hunger/fullness scale, think about feeding yourself enough to satisfy your body’s hunger rather than filling yourself to the brim. What amount of food would take you from level three/four to a comfortable six/seven? Hint: You aren’t going to know by looking at the amount of you serve yourself, but rather by tuning into how you feel as you eat. Start with what you think sounds satisfying and give yourself permission to either save what you don’t eat now or to go back for more if you need to.

This takes us to step three which is practice paying attention to yourself as you eat. It’s imperative at the beginning of your new practice to eat without distractions–no phones, computers, projects, friends, television, etc. Create an environment where it’s just you and your food. (This will be harder if you have a family but not impossible!) Eat slowly, focusing on how the food smells, tastes, and feels in your mouth. I know this sounds kind of weirdly meditative, and it is. Not weirdly, of course, but definitely meditative! As you make your way through your meal, focus on your hunger level and notice when you feel the move from hungry to satisfied. When you feel the comfort of satiation, stop. Don’t worry about how much food is left on the plate! Ignore it and stay in tune with your body instead. Doing something that actively makes you stop can be helpful–push the plate away; stand up; place a napkin over the plate.

Within about five or 10 minutes of ending your meal, you’ll notice one of two things as your body settles:

  1. You’re still hungry and need to eat some more (go ahead! Honor your body’s request.)
  2. You are comfortably full–satisfied without feeling like an overstuffed bear.

The more you practice these steps, the less you’ll have to think about them. Tuning in with your body will become intuitive.

There are no rules when it comes to food. Following rules, such as “finish everything on your plate,”  instead of following your body cues will absolutely contribute to weight gain and keep your body from finding its homeostasis, that place of size and good feeling you were designed to embody.

The next rule we’ll tackle: no dessert until after dinner.




Have you been food-shamed?

That is so bad for you.

You shouldn’t eat that.

You should eat [insert food] instead.

Are you going to eat all of that?

Is that all you’re going to eat?

Why are you eating that?

That isn’t healthy.

You should eat something healthier.

Didn’t you just eat?

That looks disgusting.

I can’t believe you eat that!

That has way too much sugar.

That has too much fat.

That stuff contains poison you know.

You’re eating poison.

That is terrible for you; it’s like poison to your body.


Have you ever heard any of these comments? It’s called food shaming. Food shaming is analogous to someone telling you that you look fat in that dress or you shouldn’t be wearing those jeans. Or when you look in the mirror and harshly tell yourself your thighs are too big or your arms too flabby. These judgments fuel body dissatisfaction, lower self-esteem, and inflate the belief that you aren’t good enough… healthy enough.

Food shaming implies that your eating habits aren’t what they should be and cause doubt about your food desires, health, and even body shape. If you already struggle with food anxiety or self-consciousness when dining with others, invasive commentary about your plate elevates these feelings. Passive aggressive and even direct commentary about your food feed the lie that you’re eating wrong or something is wrong with you for making the food choices you have. Critiquing your food also makes the other person feel better or more “health righteous” about their own food.  No one has a right to judge you or what’s on your plate. 

Every single one of these phrases has been spoken to me AND/OR my children. These comments, while sometimes seemingly innocent or meant to be helpful, are harmful to your thoughts, behaviors, and esteem about food, your body, and sense of health.

Hear me well: no one should ever be in your food– including your spouse/significant other, children, and other close family. 

This means no one should be commenting on, questioning, or judging your food. Ever. (Nor should anyone be commenting on, questioning, or judging your children’s food, especially teachers and other students. More on that in a future post 😉 ) By the same token, if you’ve ever said any of these comments to yourself or even out loud to another person about your own food, then you are expressing shame about your own choices. You’ve pegged yourself as “wrong” or “bad” because of your food. Food doesn’t define who you are. Food is simply a fun, creative, and delightful way to honor your body’s need for nourishment.


It’s important to recognize food shaming when it happens and acknowledge how it makes you feel because it affects your relationship with food and your body. Understanding how food shaming affects you is a powerful step in building body confidence, empowering positive messages, and setting boundaries with others when it comes to your health.

If someone is all up in your food with their shamey commentary, stand your ground and trust yourself. You don’t have to defend your choices or feel bad about your food, and you certainly don’t need to feel bad about yourself. You know your body better than anyone. Love yourself and eat what you love.


You don’t have to earn your food

My son and father-in-law came home from skiing yesterday all damp, chilled, and tired. My daughter and her friend just finished baking chocolate chip cookies, so our house was all warm and smelled of freshly baked goodness. My husband handed the plate of cookies to my father-in-law and said, “Hey Dad! Have a cookie. You deserve it.”

“No,” I said. “We don’t earn cookies. Have a cookie because they smell amazing, and you’re probably hungry after a long day of skiing and driving.”

My husband smiled and gave me a soft, knowing chuckle. “Yes. You’re right. Dad, you want a freshly baked cookie? They just came out of the oven.”

My father-in-law partook, of course! As did my hungry son.


There’s a message in our culture that you have to earn your food, especially foods that are deemed “special,” “guilty pleasures,” or “bad for you.”

And you believe that message. You wait for special occasions to have that “sinful” chocolate cake; you wait until you’ve eaten your grilled chicken salad with balsamic vinaigrette to enjoy the mint chip ice cream in the freezer (but only a bite because you already indulged in a brownie earlier today); you eat the plate of fettuccine Alfredo because you earned it on the hike this afternoon; you reward yourself with dessert this time since you’ve been “so good lately.”

The opposite is also true. You punish yourself when you’ve “been bad” and ate the extra cookie or two or the whole plate. Working out has become both the reward and punishment for how you earn or eat your food– burning off the doughnuts Joe brought into work today (dang you, Joe!); or burning an extra few hundred calories in preps for the family dinner tonight, because mom is making her dutch apple pie, and you know you won’t be able to control yourself to just one slice.


You don’t have to earn your food. You don’t have to “be good” to enjoy the foods you love, especially the sweet stuff. You also don’t need to punish yourself for eating, enjoying, and even craving certain foods…you know, the foods with all the rules and regulations about sugar, fat and calories.

When you try to earn your food by being good enough to deserve it (whether through restriction or avoidance of fun foods, or burning off calories in exercise) you are defining your value based on food: “I was bad today; I ate the brownie. I need to run two hours to work that off.” OR “I was so good because I didn’t eat the brownie.”  You may think you’re being healthy by controlling yourself through reward and punishment, but what you’re doing on a deeper level is attaching or diminishing your self-value based on your behavior with food. And that, my dear friend, is not healthy. Nor is it kind to you.


Your body has no rules about food. Your body doesn’t value foods as “good” or “bad”; your body doesn’t define you as good or bad.  Culture does, but your body doesn’t. Listen to your body, sweet friend.

Your body doesn’t judge you if you feed it mint chocolate chip ice cream before or with your chicken salad (or a bacon cheeseburger for that matter); your body loved the doughnuts Joe brought today because that maple bar sounded delicious to your brain, and your body was able to use that energy to get you through the 10:00 meeting; Mom’s dutch apple pie is both delicious and nostalgic because she would make it for your dad when he returned home from long business trips and your family was together again. Dutch apple pie literally makes your heart happy and your body thanks you for feeding it something you enjoy.


Eat what sounds good, when it sounds good. You don’t deserve it because you don’t have to earn it.  And you don’t have to work it off because you didn’t eat anything wrong.

May you find joy in your food and peace in your body.

Much love!