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Rules vs. Boundaries

If you struggle with binge eating, it’s likely that you’ve tried over and over again to implement rules around food and body. This is why fad diets are so trendy; when we’re struggling, we’re drawn to “quick fixes,” many of which come with a lot of ridiculous, restrictive rules and little to no long-term success. Rules and restriction can actually trigger binge eating,  since bingeing is a direct result of deprivation. When it comes to recovery, it’s imperative that you know the difference between rules vs. boundaries and which one will actually support your recovery instead of disrupting it.

Rules of Fear

Rules are created from a place of fear. You often make rules around the things that you are trying to control, like food, money, your body, relationships, etc. However these rules are actually setting you up for failure and self-sabotage. You either live by rules, or you break them, and when the rules are around food and body, it’s likely you will break them.

Humans aren’t meant to restrict and over analyze food to the degree that we do as a society. When you implement rules and restriction with food, you actually trigger famine mode within your body. This means that your mind becomes obsessed with food the moment you acknowledge the restriction. This is a long ingrained survival instinct that has been part of our human DNA since the caveman days. Back then, if food was scarce, you’d die. Our brains are literally wired to interpret deprivation as potentially fatal, which is why so many people yo yo diet for most of their lives. They are literally throwing their bodies and minds into chaos by implementing rules that go against their programmed means of survival.

I was the queen of rules, and breaking them, back in my diet depression days. Over the course of four years, I was on over 50 different fad diets, all of which had some kind of rules to follow if I wanted to stop obsessing over food and attain the body of my dreams. I literally failed at every one of those 50 diets. I could not stick with a single set of diet rules for longer than a few weeks at a time. The more I failed at those rules, the more I blamed myself and my “lack of willpower,” and the deeper I fell into my diet depression. “What is wrong with me?!” was my motto playing on repeat back in those days.

Breaking Free of Fear

When you try to live your life by fear-induced rules, you will never be able to follow them. This is why creating boundaries is a much healthier practice, especially when it comes recovery. Boundaries are created from a place of love. You set boundaries with an intention of feeling good, strong, and healthy, not because you hate your body and need to fit into a size six. Implementing boundaries instead of rules is about swapping the intention of moving away from what you don’t want with moving toward what you do want. Boundaries have an underlying sense of excitement and possibilities, whereas rules are shrouded with fear of failure and self-loathing.

When my struggle with binge eating was at its worst, one of the rules I often tried to strong-arm myself into was: no sugar. Ever. The moment I would sign up to live by that rule, I’d instantly become obsessed with anything and everything sugar. I’d crave and fantasize over all of the foods I couldn’t have, and eventually I’d wind up breaking the rule and bingeing on junk food loaded with sugar. Then I’d hop on the next fad diet in the queue and live out the cycle all over again. These days, however, I’ve ditched the rules. Instead, I create boundaries based on self-loving intentions. The key there is intention – I make boundaries from a place of loving myself and my body and wanting to live the type of energetic life that lights my soul on fire. So if that means little to no alcohol, I’m okay with that, and I don’t obsess over it.

The best thing you can do to maintain your recovery in as peaceful a way as possible is to let go of rules. It’s time to stop restricting yourself. It’s likely you know by now that deprivation doesn’t work for the long haul. It creates anxiety, stress, and overwhelm that is likely to make you fall into old, self-destructive behaviors like binge eating to numb out. If you find yourself wanting to make a change or “set a rule,” stop and ask yourself why. What is your intention? What is the underlying fear and how you can you flip the script and approach it from a place of self-love and compassion? From there, set a boundary, and show yourself grace as you begin to incorporate the new boundary into your daily routine.

For example, if you keep thinking of making a rule that you can’t eat sugar, stop and ask yourself why. Maybe it’s because you feel like you’ve gone off the rails lately and you’re not eating very healthy. The underlying fear is that you’re not eating healthy and you may gain weight. Flip the script on that fear, instead focus on setting a boundary to eat foods that really make you feel good physically. Start to journal on what you’re currently eating and how it makes you feel, and then start to seed in healthier options and really pay attention to how they make you feel. Remember your intention – love vs. fear.

An End to the Trends

When you’ve tried to live your life by rules for so long, it can be scary to let them go. As humans, one of our core needs is safety, and that need can be challenged when we make a big change. However, change can be a beautiful thing, especially when it comes to rules vs. boundaries. Stop living from fear and scrambling to create rules to help you “be better.” Instead, look at how far you’ve come, and commit to maintaining your recovery in the healthiest way possible. Suffering is a choice, and you are allowed to choose something different.


Photos Courtesy of Shutterstock

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