Q&A: Can I Keep My Rules?


The Question:

I’m interested in reading your book, but when it comes to food I’m someone who very much needs rules. I simply cannot begin to imagine any way for me to stop bingeing without imposing rules. Do you think your technique is going to work for me?

My Answer:

Whether you follow rules given by others or create them yourself, this may well be the only way you’ve been able to control your eating in the past. That’s why rules are so important to so many people. If there is no other technique available, it makes good sense because it is at least something.

In his book, The End of Overeating Dr David Kessler recommends: “One overarching and rigid rule will be your guide: If it isn’t part of your structure, you don’t eat it.” And Michael Pollen wrote Food Rules, which include: “Don’t eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognise as food.”

You don’t need books, though, to have rules about food. I talk to a great many people who’ve spent years trying to obey rules about food. They’re attending my seminars, though, so they do have problems with this strategy.

There’s a fair bit of research that comes to the same conclusion. For example, this from the medical journal Obesity Research: “Attempts to enforce highly rigid control of eating seem to be counterproductive to weight control efforts and may disrupt more appropriate food choice behaviours.”

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  1. Sandy

    Ate (unhappily) according to the “rules” all my life. Rebelled plenty thus losing and regaining considerable amounts of weight each time. Have been following the Times and Plans discussed in your book for 3 weeks. This feels like a complete miracle! Knowing I have freedom of choice in EVERY situation has released me from the on-going love/hate feelings about food. I feel like I’ve been released from a life sentence. Thank you!!!

  2. Ginger

    I feel helpless and hopeless. I’m really unable to lose weight and keep it off. I’m now 70 and still disgusted with myself all the time over my self my body shape and all food. This is at the back of my mind almost all the time.im only free if I can take a pill to control my appetite and lift my mood. Then of course you can’t keep taking them and sooner you find yourself faced with the ugly fact that you are back where you were six months before. Ugh, at my age you’d think I’d have found the solution.

    • Julie

      Yes, Ginger at 62 I am in a similar space. I am doing so much better at being at choice and engaging in less frequent binging. In an earlier writing Gillian made reference to Dr. John Britta’s book “Escape the diet trap”. He has a chapter on metabolism which is helpful for those of us with years of dieting. I have just started doing his 12 minute workout (recommend to start slowly at our ages) to kick start my metabolism. It has only been two weeks but I feel better because I have changed up my exercise routine and I believe research backs this up. I am guessing Gillian can add more to this with her extensive knowledge.

  3. Gillian

    Something genuinely “clicked” with me a month or so ago, after attending a seminar earlier in the year. I had a compliant honeymoon phase but by summer was wobbling everywhere as cravings came back. But I could sense the progress I’d made and at heart was so relieved to be freed from rules that I just embraced it, but began to not only own my choices properly but also seriously question why I was hungry and what for. Today, I feel genuinely free. I have no desire to binge or overeat. The choices I make are 98% of the time fantastic because of this freedom. I actually did a green juice cleanse/detox recently without any feelings of deprivation or restriction and eased back into normal food effortlessly. I have no food rules at all any more; all I really care about is “will this make me feel great?”. And very slowly, icing on the cake, my size is reducing (have no idea about weight because weight is not my problem :-))

  4. Chancery

    I feel for you, Ginger. I’m literally a month away from 60 and I’m still struggling with eating problems (and the ill-health that’s gone with it). I frequently marvel that I can be 60 years old and am still repeating old patterns and struggling with the same old (insoluble) problems and demons. Eating disorders are always portrayed as a young woman’s problem!

    I can’t in all honesty say I am a fan of food rules because my own experience over the years has shown they end up causing an eating disorder of one sort or another – it is simply too much pressure to constantly be policing yourself. That said, I also have a real problem with the ubiquitous “everything in moderation” advice that you are fed everywhere. I’ve wasted many years trying to eat sweet foods in moderation and never been able to – I’ve ricocheted from deprivation to bingeing time without number. Given that I didn’t start out as a binge eater, and that evolved over the years, I think that’s a fair condemnation of both food rules and ‘everything in moderation’ laissez faire. I think the latter ideology doesn’t take into account two things: 1. What, exactly, is moderation? and 2. The dangerous addictive chemistry of sugar/fat foods. Some people are more carbohydrate intolerant and eating sugar/fat ‘treats’ in moderation is not really viable.

    I’m still working on this issue and making (slight) progress, in that my weight is now stable and I haven’t binged in some time and have no urge to do so, but actual weight loss eludes me. I think metabolic damage is a real issue after many years of aberrant eating, but what to do about it, I do not know.

    • I wrote a blog about this in May this year (2016): “Q&A: Can’t Lose” – you’ll find the Archives under ‘Blog’ in the top menu bar.

      If you want to, there’s also my blog from January 2013 “Sugar in Moderation”.

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