Do You Put on a False Food Face?

Do you put on a false food face? It looks something like this:

The Healthy Eater
Leslie works hard to preserve her healthy eater image. At parties, she’s on her best behavior and only snacks on what she considers to be "good" foods, like crudité, hummus, shrimp cocktail, and the grapes decorating the cheese platter.

Once she leaves, however, she often stops and buys a big bag of chips or picks up a pizza, which she scarfs down in the privacy of her own home.

The Light Eater
When dining out with her girlfriends, Crystal always orders something light, like a garden salad or baked fish, and declines dessert, even when she’d much rather have a plate of pasta and slice of cheesecake.

When she gets back to her apartment, she heads right to the freezer, grabs a pint of ice cream, and quickly eats spoonful after spoonful while standing in the dark.

The Restrained Eater
Trained to be a restrained eater by her mother, a chronic dieter, Polly always asks the waiter to package up half her entrée in a to-go box before she eats a bite. Her family and friends frequently comment on how “good” she is.

More often than not, Polly leaves the table feeling hungry and unsatisfied. The minute she walks in her front door, she dives into her leftovers then goes hunting for more food.

Ultimately, she eats far more than she would have if she had just eaten what she wanted and needed at the restaurant.

Can you relate to any of these stories?

Putting on a False Food Face
In Intuitive Eating, this is called putting on a false food face—eating only what’s considered “proper” when dining with other people.

There are many reasons why you might put on a false food face, such as:

  • You’re worried about other people negatively judging your choices

  • You don’t want to tarnish your reputation as a “healthy” or “clean” eater

  • You feel you don’t deserve to eat certain foods (especially in public) due to your weight

  • You’re afraid of receiving disapproving looks or comments from external food police, such as “Are you sure you should be eating that?” or “Do you really need another slice?”

  • You don’t want to stand out from your diet-conscious dining companions by ordering something “bad” or “unhealthy” or "fattening" or "carb-y"

  • You’re ashamed of publicly breaking your food rules, which you take a lot of pride in adhering to (e.g., I don’t eat gluten; I never eat after 7 p.m.; I’ve sworn off sugar and carbs)

  • You like the ego boost you feel when you demonstrate self-restraint, especially when others compliment you on your "virtuous" behavior

Always Backfires
While putting on a false food face is completely understandable given our diet-obsessed, weight-focused and wellness-infatuated culture, it typically backfires.

When you deprive yourself of the foods you really want, don’t get pleasure and satisfaction from your meal, and/or don’t eat enough, the natural response is intense cravings, overeating and binge eating.

It has nothing to do with a lack of willpower or self-control. It’s simply human nature.

Most likely, your eating backlash leads to feelings of guilt, disappointment, despair and shame. As a result, you may feel the need to compensate for your food “sins” and pull the reins in tighter, which only fuels the endless cycle of restrict-binge-repent-repeat.

Self-Compassion is Key
If you have a history of putting on a false food face, I urge you to be compassionate with yourself.

Every action has a positive intention. It's possible your false food face may be a form of self-protection, a way to keep yourself safe.

Or maybe it's a way to maintain your identity or feel a sense of control. Perhaps your desire is to feel accepted, to fit in and belong.

Regardless of your intentions, as you likely know, playing this role is exhausting! 

It sucks all the joy, pleasure and fun out of eating. It distracts you from being fully engaged with the present moment. And, it keeps you stuck in a vicious cycle.

Fortunately, there is a better way: Intuitive Eating.

Internal Cues Vs. External Rules
With Intuitive Eating, your food decisions are based on internal cues (e.g., hunger, fullness, satisfaction) and personal preferences versus external rules, influence or expectations.

You listen to, trust and honor your own body wisdom, instincts and desires. 

As a result, you no longer feel compelled to put on a false food face. You eat for you—and only you.