Have you ever made a food choice and wondered if it was the wrong one? This post will help you become clear and confident in your food choices as I explain the difference between a food rule and a food preference.

food rule VS food preference

What Is A Food Rule?

Okay, let’s get this straight, first. A food rule is any decision about food (what to eat, when to eat, etc) that is based on outside sources or what you think is “right” or “good”, not your own knowledge of what feels good to you and what your body is needing. Some examples of food rules are:

  • Meals/snacks must be eaten at XYZ time
  • Always picking the lettuce wrap to eat as few carbs as possible
  • Only eating sweet potatoes not regular because they’re “good”
  • Not eating cake because baked goods are “bad”

What really matters when it comes to a food rule is the “why” behind the decision. Are you doing it because you want because that is what feels good to you, or because you think you “should”.

Another important question to ask yourself is “Would I get anxiety if this option wasn’t available”. Think about the lettuce wrap option. Sometimes, maybe we just aren’t super hungry and we want the lettuce wrap. Totes fine. BUT… what would happen if they ONLY had buns? Would you get anxiety if that was served to you? If the answer is yes, then that likely signals a food rule, not a preference.

I talk about this distinction in my post about getting started with gentle nutrition, as well.

What Is A Food Preference?

Okay, now let’s get clear on what a food preference is. A food preference is making a food choice based on what you enjoy most, find most satisfying, feel best eating, etc. based on your body’s needs and desires. This decision comes from within you, not based on diet culture or what you feel is the “right” answer. It’s you genuinely liking one thing over another. Here are a couple examples of food preferences:

  • picking a lettuce wrap because you’re not super hungry or would like more fries, and you know having both would make you uncomfortably full
  • Having some protein at most meals because you know it will help to keep you satisfied
  • Eating a sweet potato over a regular potato because the added fiber will help keep your bowels regular
  • Drinking water over soda because soda makes you feel full and sluggish mid-afternoon
  • Picking white rice because you enjoy it more than brown, not because you think eating the brown is a “diet culture” choice and you must rebel

You might notice that some things fall under both categories, such as the lettuce wrap example. The biggest thing to note here is the WHY behind this choice. You very well could make the same choice when you give up food rules, and that it totally okay! What matters is you’re doing it because you want to, not because you’re depriving yourself, are trying to cut carbs or think you “should”.

food rule VS food preference

How To Identify Food Preferences

The best thing to do is to experiment. Have a burger with a bun one night and one without a bun another night. Which did you prefer? Which felt better?

Another important thing to do, like I mentioned, is to ask yourself “Would I have anxiety if the other option was the only thing available?” If the answer is yes, it likely signals a food rule, not a preference.

It’s easy to get in a rut of only eating your food preferences and never allowing yourself to explore other foods, which actually could leave to food rules. I talk about about that in my blog post on food jags and eating the same thing every day!

Allow Your Preferences To Ebb And Flow

One other important piece to consider if your preferences can ebb and flow, they can change. Going along with the lettuce wrap, there might be a day when you want it and there might be a day when your preference leans towards the bun. Totally fine and totally normal. You don’t have to pick one thing that will be your preference for the rest of your life, you don’t have to fit inside of a box!

If you’re unsure where you stand when it comes to having food rules VS food preferences you can take my free quiz which will help you ID what is holding you back from breaking food rules and help you get clear on food preferences. Plus, you’ll get a free workbook to help you do so!

I hope this post helped you to gain some clarity on if your food choices are stemming from food rules or food preferences. Leave a comment below with one of your food preferences! One of mine is wheat bread over white bread. The extra fiber helps to keep me full!

Happy food rule breaking,



PS. These are my own definitions and how I explain the two. Your exact definitions might be different, and that’s okay!

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