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March 27, 2023

Can Ancient Toltec Wisdom Improve How We Relate to Food?

Written by Dr. Gia Marson

Learn how the lessons in The Four Agreements may lead to a healthier relationship to food and your body—and curb disordered eating

Our self-talk can prop us up or hold us back, keep us going or slow our stroll. The words we say can be motivating and expansive, or they can be limiting and narrow. How we talk to ourselves impacts how we talk to others, of course. Interestingly, our self-talk also impacts how we eat.

It makes sense, then, that learning a language based in truth, compassion, and love is beneficial. As is following a code of conduct that teaches us to be authentic. One renowned book, The Four Agreements: A Personal Guide to Freedom, by bestselling author Don Miguel Ruiz, does just that. Based on ancient Toltec wisdom, it provides guidelines that can help us lead a more fulfilling and better life. When these four simple concepts are applied in the context of how we relate to food and our bodies, a surprising amount of healing and growth can happen. 

These powerful concepts can help you build healthy habits for a lifetime.  They may even help you end emotional eating, impulsive eating, binge eating, or an eating disorder.

Let’s take a look at each “agreement” and how it can impact your food choices for the better. 

1. Be impeccable with your word

Speak truthfully and refrain from using words that cause harm to yourself or others. In the context of your relationship with food and your body:

  • Be open and honest about your thoughts, feelings, and actions around food and body image. Are you truly acting with health and love in mind?
  • Be mindful of the language you use to describe yourself and other people.
  • Learn to distinguish facts from feelings in your self-talk.
  • Check whether your words and your actions are in alignment. For example, if you don’t believe in diet culture, don’t diet. If you do believe in making healthy food choices, eat enough food, choose variety, enjoy what you consume, and fulfill your body’s need for energy. 

2. Don’t take anything personally

Don’t let other people’s thoughts and deeds undermine your own sense of value. In the context of your relationship with food and your body:

  • Maintain a sense of value in yourself—as a whole, complex, lovable soul—regardless of others’ thoughts or opinions of you or your body. 
  • Resist the urge to let self-critical thoughts about your eating or body define who you are.
  • Ignore diet and fitness messages from for-profit propaganda; these are not personal messages nor are they designed for your health. Instead, listen to the wisdom in your own body.
  • On a day when your body image is more negative, don’t let shaming advertisements fill your head with a negative narrative about your worth. Instead, give yourself compassion.

“Taking things personally makes you easy prey for predators…. They can hook you easily with one little opinion and feed you whatever poison they want, and because you take it personally, you eat it up. You eat all their emotional garbage, and now it becomes your garbage. But if you do not take it personally, you are immune in the middle of hell. Immunity to poison in the middle of hell is the gift of this agreement.”
―Miguel Ruiz, The Four Agreements

3. Don’t make assumptions

Clear and honest communication helps prevent misunderstandings. In the context of your relationship with food and your body:

  • Use clear language when it comes to communicating your needs and boundaries.
  • Make space to address relationship problems with honesty and kindness; pushing problems aside can inadvertently displace them on food or your body image. 
  • Be mindful, staying open-minded and listening to others’ perspectives.
  • Be willing to ask for help when you need it, even if you are not certain of the answer.  
  • Question the credentials and statements of those promoting diet culture, rather than taking for granted that their messages are based in facts. 

4. Always do your best

Do your best in any circumstance, but be aware that your best will change from day to day. In the context of your relationship with food and your body:

  • Make choices related to food and exercise based on health, connection, happiness, energy, and access.
  • Treat mistakes as an opportunity to learn, instead of turning against yourself. 
  • Know when you are struggling, then seek support and treatment when needed.
  • Acknowledge that small slip-ups are a normal part of life and they don’t undo the work that you’ve previously done. 

“Just do your best—in any circumstance in your life. It doesn’t matter if you are sick or tired, if you always do your best there is no way you can judge yourself. And if you don’t judge yourself there is no way you are going to suffer from guilt, blame, and self-punishment. By always doing your best, you will break a big spell that you have been under.”
―Miguel Ruiz, The Four Agreements

Having an eating disorder—or problems eating enough or stopping when you are full—can put a strain on your relationship with yourself and others. Negative eating patterns and body image can lead to isolation, feelings of shame, disgust, frustration, and mental obsessions about calories, weight, steps, reps, or macros. Following Ruiz’s ideas may help you change. Doing your best means you maintain self-compassion, acknowledge that life is often not easy, and accept that no one is perfect. 

Above all, learn to tune in and trust yourself. Self-love and satisfying relationships are important for mental health generally, and for positively transforming your relationship with food and your body. 

You deserve to be loved and your body deserves to be nourished!


Herrick, S. S., Hallward, L., & Duncan, L. R. (2021). “This is just how I cope”: An inductive thematic analysis of eating disorder recovery content created and shared on TikTok using #EDrecovery. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 54(4), 516–526.

Venturo‐Conerly, K. E., Wasil, A. R., Dreier, M. J., Lipson, S. M., Shingleton, R. M., & Weisz, J. R. (2020). Why I recovered: A qualitative investigation of factors promoting motivation for eating disorder recovery. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 53(8), 1,244–1,251.​​

Wetzler, S., Hackmann, C., Peryer, G., Clayman, K., Friedman, D., Saffran, K., … & Pike, K. M. (2020). A framework to conceptualize personal recovery from eating disorders: A systematic review and qualitative meta‐synthesis of perspectives from individuals with lived experience. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 53(8), 1,188–1,203.

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