7 New Food Rules You Should Follow in 2024

7 New Food Rules You Should Follow in 2024 April 12, 2024Leave a comment

It’s not the noughties anymore.

You know carbs aren’t the sole reason for fat gain, you know step aerobics classes are a waste of time, you know you can eat the egg yolk without turning into a cholesterol-walking egghead, and you’ve realised you can finally throw away your iPod shuffle without losing all your downloads. 

Welcome to the 2020s. 

Unfortunately, in an era where air fryers are the new microwaves and not taking a tripod to the gym is now seen as weird, people are still holding on to plenty of archaic and damaging beliefs around food and exercise. 

These are the lies we’ve been sold by marketing companies, magazines, and Instagram fitness influencers who wouldn’t know what a hack squat was if they were hit over the head with one.

Luckily, you’ve stumbled an article that is going to introduce you to the food rules and guidelines you should be following in 2024. 

These are the fresh fundamentals that mean you won’t be stuck in the vicious yo-yo dieting cycles of years gone by, nor continually wondering why you can never sustain a health and fitness journey for longer than three weeks.

They should be common knowledge, but, unfortunately, simply aren’t.

It’s time, therefore, to leave your old friends and principles behind and take a closer look at the seven new food rules you should follow:

Rule #1 – Food Is No Longer ‘Good, Bad, Clean Or Dirty’

Look across at the windswept planes of Diet Culture and you’ll be bombarded with rules about what to eat, what not to eat, when to eat, and whether the food you’re eating has passed the much coveted ‘clean eating’ test. 

Unfortunately, labelling foods as ‘good’, ‘bad’, ‘clean’, ‘dirty, ‘junk’, or ‘fattening’ leads to more problems than solutions. 

Not only does restricting perceived ‘sinful’ and ‘guilty’ foods actually lead to greater overeating of those very same items [1] but making certain foods off-limits increases preoccupation with them [2].

Food neutrality – the act of removing labels from what you eat – however, involves eating without judgement. 

There is no guilt, shame, or labels assigned to particular foods because, ultimately, food is morally neutral with no dichotomous rules or epithets attached to them.

Through viewing all foods as equal, you cultivate a more intuitive, mindful, and joyful relationship with eating and aren’t continually ‘dieting’ or ‘losing weight’.

You can now eat something out of pure enjoyment rather than viewing it as something ‘off plan’. 

Crisps are food. Vegetables are food. You’re allowed to eat cake. You’re allowed to eat steak. If you’re craving some chocolate, that’s OK. If you’re craving a protein shake, that’s OK.

When you practice food neutrality, you’re practicing self-compassion and kindness, and, in turn, removing the pressure to always eat as you thought you needed to.

Start releasing yourself from the rust-covered shackles of shoehorning certain foods into a variety of categories, and you’ll suddenly realise you don’t need to be ‘dieting’ or ‘on plan’; you’re always eating for what you and your body needs.

There’s no such thing as ‘good’ or ‘bad’.

# Rule 2 – You No Longer Suppress Your Emotions

It has been shown repeatedly that, when dieters try to suppress their thoughts, they experience a significant thought rebound.

Trying to avoid thinking about the piece of chocolate sitting in the cupboard is like trying to avoid thinking of a horse dancing the jive in a pink tutu. All you end up doing is thinking of the piece of chocolate – or horse dancing the jive in a pink tutu.

Though it may appear to work for a while, thought suppression encourages food-related thoughts and results in increased food intake [3].

Allowing yourself to feel a desire enables you to then act independently of the experience. 

When you’re ‘fused’ with your thoughts and feelings, you automatically act on them (for example, craving, then immediately also devouring the chocolate). 

When you’re ‘defused’ from your thoughts and feelings, you can act independently from them (craving but not devouring the chocolate). 

Defusion is simply separating yourself – and your actions – from your thoughts. 

When the dieters in one study were told to just think about their intention to eat chocolate, however, they ate twice as fewer chocolates as when they tried not to think about chocolate before a taste test. [4]

They were able to uncouple the act of eating chocolate from their desire to do so. This acceptance-based approach to our thoughts results in lower cravings and reduced consumption. [5].

You are not, nor do you have to act upon, your feelings.

To practice defusion, think about labelling your internal experiences. 

For example, “I’m currently having the thought that (‘I really want a bag of crisps’)”, or, “I am currently having the feeling of (‘tiredness, so I don’t want to go to the gym’)”. This enables you to look at your thoughts as opposed to acting from them.

Rule #3 – Stop Using Food As A Reward

It’s only natural. You’ve done something well – completed that work project, lost some weight, successfully matched on Tinder – so it makes sense to reward yourself with a delectable and mouth-watering treat.

What better way than to celebrate with something to eat or drink?

Unfortunately, using food as a reward – a behaviour deeply rooted in both our biological responses and psychological coping mechanisms – is leading us down a rabbit hole of eating and bodyweight problems.

When we devour those hyperpalatable foods as a reward for completing a task, the brain triggers a dopamine release – a ‘feel-good’ neurotransmitter that plays a pivotal role in our brain’s reward system – which means we’re likely to keep repeating that behaviour [6].

And, of course, keep overeating. 

In addition to the gratification from rewarding ourselves, studies have found that the ‘reward value’ of food is influenced by how much we like the food and how hungry we are [7].

The relationship between stress, constant dieting, and that continual dopamine release, creates an enticing urge to seek out hyperpalatable foods, especially after accomplishing tasks or during challenging times.

However, when you can identify non-food reward strategies that supply that dopamine boost, you’re less likely to eat for the sake of it.

Whether it be:

-> An enjoyable self-care ritual (e.g., playing a video game, indulging in a favourite hobby), 

-> Seeking a different materialistic reward (e.g., clothes, yet another kitchen utensil), 

-> Or an experiential reward (e.g., going to the cinema, playing a sport)

You can still acquire the satisfaction and pleasure you seek without turning to food.

The aim isn’t to deprive ourselves of pleasure but to find overarching, lasting ways to feel rewarded without compulsion around food.

Rule #4 – Tune Into Your Hunger & Fullness Cues

We’ve continually battered our hunger and fullness cues into oblivion through constant, restrictive dieting, adhering to rigid rules imparted on us by parents, and significant issues with our body image.

It’s no wonder we can’t stop eating when we’re full and why we eat when we’re not hungry.

When we can learn to accept and trust our bodies, however, and appreciate that they know better than anyone or anything else when to eat and when to stop, we can finally learn how to tune into those hunger and fullness cues appropriately.

This ‘normal eating’ is in line with following your intuition of what and when to eat.

Of course, we may well need some structure at times – and such a skill will undoubtedly take huge amounts of practice to mater – but instead of depriving ourselves or following stringent and unsustainable rules (hey Keto), we’re choosing to trust our body’s wisdom and to finally believe that it knows how to maintain its own health and balance.

To start discerning whether you’re truly hungry or not, always consider these questions before reaching for something to eat:

And to figure out when you’re full and can stop eating, tune into how you’re feeling during your meal/snack:

Discovering what ‘normal eating’ looks like for you involves differentiating between physical and emotional hunger, prioritising fulfilment and enjoyment from eating, and listening to your body instead of external food rules.

Instead of cutting our specific food groups or following rigid meal plans, it’s time to start counting on your body’s ability to know when and how much you should be eating.

Rule #5 – Stop Thinking Short-Term

’12-week transformations’, ’28-days detoxes’, and ‘Summer diets’ are still all the rage.

Why?

Because they’re only focused on the short-term. 

These quick-fire projects absolve people from making serious, sustainable behavioural changes – which are, of course, extremely challenging – at the expense of easier, rapid and oft-harmful modifications. 

-> Why go through the pain of improving your emotional tolerance when you can just cut out chocolate for 12 weeks? 

-> Why practice tuning into your fullness cues when you can hammer yourself on the treadmill for an hour every day for the next month? 

-> Why focus on the process without seeing instant results when the gratification of seeing the number on the scales drop is far more enticing?

Unfortunately, these are the exact reasons people wind up in that vicious yo-yo dieting cycle.

Losing a definitive amount of weight isn’t the goal; nor is attempting to reach a specific, societal standard of perceived beauty in a particular timeframe. Instead, these are the problems.

People often pursue goals that are at odds with their values, leading to one-dimensional and quick-fix bursts of effort.

Instead, it’s time to focus on the bigger picture. It’s time to stop chasing these short-term ventures that provide meaningless indicators of progress.

-> Start practicing skills with the intention of holding onto these for years to come.

-> Start persevering with true behaviour change so you can chip away at fat loss without worrying what the scales show.

-> Start ignoring the numbers and focus on what lifestyle changes are going to lead to a happier, fulfilling, and satisfying life forever.

Rule #6 – Eat For Satisfaction

A commonly held belief running through dieters’ minds is that losing weight is meant to be hard. 

In other words, if we’re not chewing down our fingernails to avoid caving into those temptations, not ramming macabre green vegetables down our throats, nor pushing ourselves in the gym to the point of bringing up those very same, green vegetables, then we’re not working hard enough.

It’s why people looking to change their physiques will cut out all the foods they actually enjoy having and seek out bland, tasteless, and unpalatable foods because that’s what they believe they’re meant to do to succeed.

Food and meal satisfaction, however, is a critical yet often overlooked component of our eating experience. 

It’s why fulfilment with eating is associated with lower body weight in both men and women [8].

Believe it or not, you can still include the foods, drinks, and cuisines you enjoy having into a sustainable, healthy, and balanced way of life.

And, in including those foods you enjoy having into your diet, you’re going to avoid those feelings of deprivation, meaning you’re less likely to fall into that ‘restrict, overeating, restrict’ cycle.

Diets arrive, for most people, with negative connotations and feelings of despair. 

Migrating, from words like ‘dieting’ and ‘cutting out’, to ‘sustainability’ and ‘way of life’, has been shown, however, to successfully predict people’s chances of not only exhibiting greater control but, also, maintaining results [9].

When you can move away from that ‘either/or’ mindset and realise that you don’t have to devour everything in sight just as you don’t have to completely deprive yourself, you’ll instantly be in a better place for cultivating a healthier relationship with food and making changes to your physique. 

Who knew you could actually enjoy the taste and memories food offers without fearing what you’re eating?

Rule #7 – Cultivate Self-Compassion & Self-Acceptance

A common belief amongst dieters is that practicing self-compassion is ‘letting themselves off the hook’. That they’re being too kind to themselves. 

This is a flawed mentality: we know it’s impossible to achieve perfection, so why spend time berating ourselves when we inevitably fall short of those standards?

Self-compassion isn’t taking the easy path or being content with mediocre standards but admitting we can only do the best we can with the tools we have and accepting responsibility for our actions.

When we take a mindful, caring approach to our health-related efforts, we’re less likely to engage in unsustainable and potentially harmful tactics to change body shape and/or weight. 

Self-compassion removes these judgements and moves towards a place of acceptance that not everything will go according to plan. 

You will overeat, you will experience tough emotions, you will miss the odd gym session, and you will fall short of the high standards you set yourselves. 

This vulnerability and imperfection are essentially what makes us human. 

It’s also important to practice self-acceptance.

While it’s easy to accept the ‘good’ or valuable parts of ourselves, the true challenge comes in embracing the ‘bad’ or negative parts.

We must first acknowledge that we possess undesirable traits and habits before we start the journey to self-improvement – whether physical or mental.

We can now face the things we must work on without beating ourselves up.

-> ‘If I can’t get to the gym consistently, I am not a failure. I am a fallible human who has failed in this respect.’

-> ‘I want to do well with my eating habits, but I don’t absolutely have to do so. If I don’t, it doesn’t mean I’m a failure. It means that I am an unrateable human being who has not done well in this area of life at this time.’

References

1. Lowe, M. R. et al. (2013). Dieting and restrained eating as prospective predictors of weight gain. Frontiers In Psychology 4, 577

2. Mann, T., & Ward, A. (2001). Forbidden fruit: does thinking about a prohibited food lead to its consumption?  The International Journal Of Eating Disorders, 29(3), 319-27. 

3. Barnes, R. D., Masheb, R. M., White, M. A., & Grilo, C. M. (2013). Examining the relationship between food thought suppression and binge eating disorder. Comprehensive psychiatry, 54(7), 1077–1081.

4. Erskine, J.A.K., & Georgiou, G. (2010). Effects of thought suppression on eating behaviour in restrained and non-restrained eaters. Appetite54(3), 499-503.

5. Forman, E.M., Hoffman, K.L., Juarascio, A.S., Butryn, M.L., & Herbert J.D. (2013). Comparison of acceptance-based and standard cognitive-based coping strategies for craving sweets in overweight and obese women. Eating Behaviors, 14(1), 64-68

6. Morin, Jean-Pascal et al. (2017). Palatable Hyper-Caloric Foods Impact on Neuronal Plasticity.” Frontiers In Behavioral Neuroscience 11,19

7. Rogers, P. J, et al. (2015). Food reward. What it is and how to measure it. Appetite, 90(1), 1-15.

8. Sob, C. et al. (2023). The Positive Eating Scale: Associations with eating behavior, food choice, and body mass index. Eating Behaviors, 48, 101706. 

9. Hartmann-Boyce, J., Nourse, R., Boylan, A. M., Jebb, S. A., & Aveyard, P. (2018). Experiences of Reframing during Self-Directed Weight Loss and Weight Loss Maintenance: Systematic Review of Qualitative Studies. Applied psychology. Health and well-being, 10(2), 309–329

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