Food Rules

Food rules are something many people struggling with an eating disorder have a hard time giving up.  I work with clients on identifying food rues, challenging them, and coming up with new alternative beliefs.  We have to wonder where some of these rules originate. When people hear that I am a dietitian, the first thing they say is often, “Well, you must eat really healthy”. I can honestly say that I have never made a comment after hearing what someone does like this; however, food, weight, and appearance seem to be topics that have no filter.

I was very blessed to work with a great pediatric dietitian during my internship.  She taught me one of the greatest lessons that I employ both as a parent and clinician.  I learned both how innate one’s appetite regulation is at birth and how fragile it really is.  It is fragile because it can be offset through our own manipulation, dieting, restriction, and simply ignoring our innate internal cues.  A baby eats when hungry and stops when full (for the most part). At some point, we create a schedule to fulfill our needs and the internal cues may no longer be served.  My children attend the same elementary school. In order to serve the 700 children, my son eats lunch at 10:15am and my daughter at 12:45pm. I had written a completely different blog for this month until I stumbled upon my son’s “ABC- countdown to the end-of-the-year calendar.’  While this creative, yet tedious task of remembering which day it is brings enjoyment to each child, it is also a lot of work! After glancing at all of the assignments I had for the final days of this monumental year, I noticed something that sent shockwaves through my body. The letter U was “bring an unhealthy snack to school day”.  I did what any anti-diet dietitian, eating disorder professional, and HAES minded person would do and sat down and started typing a letter to the teacher.

The only things my children know to be unhealthy are chocking-hazards and things that are not meant to be consumed.

As a recovered professional, I have spent time teaching and demonstrating a body-positive environment.  I know that placing labels on food as good or bad and more so restricting food at such a young age is a predictor of both disordered eating and eating disorders later in life. I explained my philosophy to the teacher and offered to come speak to the classroom. I realized this is one of many opportunities that we have to speak up when we notice the diet culture message being spread, not just in the schools, but in the media, at doctor’s offices, at work, and in social situations.  Research shows us that messages about dieting do not work. It is our mindsets that need to change.

Many people with eating disorders have lived a life full of rigid food rules.  On any given day, you may make more than 200 food choices. Given this, it may seem logical to have a food rule to make sense out of everything.  On the surface, food rules may appear to help navigate the many food choices we face; however, they are more likely to lead to consequences such as the development of an eating disorder.  The food rules do not necessarily involve healthy/unhealthy foods; but go far beyond this simplicity. When we place rules over what we are allowed to eat, our bodies are designed to act aggressively to exert control.  

Our bodies were not designed to be governed by set rules. We require varied nutrition on a daily basis.

Learning to become an intuitive eater is a process whereby one responds to natural cues of the body instead of food rules.  

about the author: Amy Helms, MS/MSW, RD, LD


Amy Helms, MS/MSW, RD, LD has a private practice in Columbia, SC, New Hope Counseling and Wellness Center.  She is passionate about helping others recover from their eating disorder. She provides both nutrition and therapy services in South Carolina and provides virtual meal support services.  She is licensed to provide nutrition counseling in SC, GA, and NC. She can be found at  She loves playing tennis, with her two children, and their chocolate lab, Hope who is in training to be a therapy dog—stay tuned! Her absolute favorite thing to eat is nachos.