Creating Boundaries With Food

The Importance of Creating Boundaries With Food

February 1, 2023

The Importance of Creating Boundaries With Food: Boundaries. Guardrails. Barriers. Safety nets. These are all means of providing safety or preventing accidents and potential disasters. Think for a moment of toddlers. Toddlers are especially in need of boundaries, guardrails, barriers and all sorts of safety nets! Left to their own devices, they might easily fall downstairs, grab hot pans from the stove, get into adult prescription medications, and worse! That is the reason good, protective parents have safety gates across staircases, keep kids away from the stove and keep medications on high shelves. Safety. In particular, you do what you can to ensure that those you love are safe from things that can cause them physical or emotional harm.

What’s this got to do with food? Everything!

What’s this got to do with food? Everything! When it comes to those closest to your heart, you would do anything possible to keep them safe. Keeping yourself “safe” from foods that could cause you physical or emotional “harm” as you develop and maintain a healthy lifestyle is just as important as making sure you supervise young children around a pool. Yes, that's important.

A healthy lifestyle is required to maintain weight loss, whether the weight is lost following a surgical procedure, with the assistance of medications, or a “diet.” As most people have learned the hard way, weight regain occurs any time “old habits” of eating fast food, sugar-filled sweets, non-nutritious snacks, or too many simple carbs become the predominant way of life. Those words are worth repeating:A healthy lifestyle is required to maintain the healthiest weight for your body.

You Need To Be Creating Boundaries With Food!

If you’re serious about maintaining a healthy weight for your body, you need to be creating boundaries with food! In other words, you need to say “no” to yourself just as you would a child who begs to stay up late to watch television on a school night. A healthy parent says, “I know you would like to stay up late and watch this show. I don’t blame you! It’s good! However, this is a school night and on school nights your bedtime is 8:30 and that’s when you’re going to bed. You can finish the show tomorrow.” Bedtimes are boundaries to keep your child safe from fatigue and doing poorly in school.

When you are tired, irritated or bored, you may want a high-calorie, unhealthy snack of some sort. A healthy you will set boundaries for yourself, saying, “Of course I want that junk food! However, I want to live a healthy lifestyle and prevent weight regain. If I eat that, I’ll be unhappy, defeated and angry with myself (emotional pain) and I’ll probably give in to other junk food that will lead to regain (physical pain related to excess weight).

I want the junk food, but I choose my health and happiness. I say ‘no’ to junk food.” THAT is how you creating boundaries with food.

“It’s hard!” You’re thinking that right now, correct? How hard it is for your child to hand over the electronic game they’re in the middle of because you, a healthy parent, sets boundaries on their screen time. How frustrated does your teen get when you take away the car keys for a month because they broke their curfew (which is a boundary)? We tell them, “This is a choice you made. You chose to keep the car out past curfew. The consequence is that you are not able to use the car for a month.”

Safety Guidelines For Your Healthy Lifestyle

Similarly, you experience consequences when you don’t follow the safety guidelines for your healthy lifestyle. When you give in to drive-thru food, ignore your awareness that too much sugar will add unwanted pounds, or partake of too many snacks, you experience several unwanted consequences in addition to added weight. Emotionally, you beat yourself up, which often leads to a vicious cycle of eating more to feel better, feeling better momentarily, and then beating yourself up some more. Physically, you feel tired and lack energy after eating too much junk food. Adding weight will eventually lead to additional health problems.

Boundaries with food are critical to maintaining a healthy lifestyle. You are in charge of setting the boundaries with food.

Here are some examples of setting boundaries for your physical and emotional safety when it comes to food:

  • Say ‘no’ to having unhealthy, tempting foods in your house. If you live with others, ask them to respect your needs and keep any snacks they have in the house in a place you will not be exposed to them.
  • Say ‘no’ to having food in your car. For anyone who is in your car. That includes you!
  • Say ‘no’ to allowing yourself food at your desk or workplace.
  • Let co-workers know you do not want them to ask to order food from a restaurant for lunch.
  • Tell your coworkers not to offer you any baked goods or unhealthy snacks they bring into the office.
  • Say ‘no’ to vending machine food. Period.
  • Say ‘no’ to fast food.
  • Say ‘no’ to calories in liquids.
  • Set a timer on your phone to remind you when it’s time to eat your protein-first meal and say ‘no’ to eating in between times.

You are not in control of what other people do. You are responsible for what you do. And for what you don’t do. You do have the ability to set boundaries with food for your own physical and emotional health. Yes, it’s difficult. Think of children and the reasons you set boundaries for them. It may be ‘hard,’ but so is making sure you are on time for work every day. So is paying  your bills on time. So is turning in homework assignments if you’re in school. So is making sure your kids have what they need for school. So is getting your kids to all of the activities they are involved in.

Adulting is difficult in many ways. You do many difficult things every day. You  set boundaries for your loved ones, but often make excuses or rationalize your choice to eat poorly. You wouldn’t allow your kids to get away with excuses so don’t allow yourself to make excuses! Be a good ‘parent’ to yourself and set healthy boundaries with food!

Connie Stapleton, PhD is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist with nearly two decades of experience in the field of bariatric medicine.

Creating Boundaries With Food
connie stapleton


Connie Stapleton, PhD is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist with nearly two decades of experience in the field of bariatric medicine. Dr. Stapleton is the author of three books, is a national and international speaker, and appears as the bariatric psychologist on three national television programs.  Read more articles by Connie Stapleton!