By Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen, MS, RD
I know from personal and professional experience that the things people say to themselves about food, both of a negative and positive nature, impact their relationship with food. The negative thoughts make people eat less well over time, increasing food’s power and the positive thoughts improve diet, making people feel more in control.
To give you an idea of what I’m talking about, here are 10 things people tell themselves about food that compromise eating, followed by better things to do and say.
1. I should or shouldn’t eat X: The word “should” almost always invokes rebellion when it comes to food. In fact, the second we say we should or shouldn’t eat something, we don’t want what we “should” have and we crave what we “shouldn’t” have even more!
A better thing to do is ask yourself what you really want to eat. Yeah, it might be something sweet or fried but then again, it might be the more wholesome option. Freeing yourself to have what you truly desire, not what your mind conjures up, will free you from struggle.
2. It’s healthy (organic, no carbs, low fat etc.) so I can eat as much of it as I want: This translates in your mind as “let’s overeat!” One study showed that those told the M&Ms were low fat ate almost 30% more than the people who ate what they believed were regular M&Ms. A better thing to tell yourself is I will eat until I’m satisfied and comfortably full, letting internal feelings guide how much you eat, regardless of the healthfulness or un-healthfulness of an item.
3. I deserve some ice cream: The mind translates “deserve” into “reward” and proceeds to overeat. People often use food as a reward because they think they need an excuse to eat palatable foods (it was a tough day, it’s vacation time, etc). Instead, make a point to include the foods you enjoy in sensible ways without judgment. This permission to eat will decrease the overwhelming desire you feel for any particular item.
4. I was good or bad (in terms of eating): When you use the words “good” and “bad” around food, your minds translate it to your being good or bad. As a result, the guilt and shame you feel from being “bad” drives the undesirable behavior.
Instead, utilize self compassion when it comes to eating by reminding yourself that no one is perfect. In one study, restrictive eaters given this message about eating “Everyone eats unhealthily sometimes, and everyone in this study eats this stuff, so I don’t think there’s any reason to feel really bad about it,” ate less candy after a preload meal, than restrictive eaters not given the self compassionate message.
5. I already blew it, so why not have… This is similar to number 4 and occurs when someone is on a new eating path or some type of diet to lose weight. When people stray from the eating plan, they tend to go hog wild and overeat because they already blew it. Researchers call this the “what-the-hell-effect”
Instead, tell yourself that what I eat at one meal has nothing to do with what I eat at another. But the bigger problem may be the very restrictive eating plan you’re on that isn’t sustainable long term.
6. Keep that food away, I can’t just eat one. Whatever you resist in your mind persists in your mind. Instead, enjoy the food mindfully and stop when satisfied.
7. I don’t have time to eat healthy. In my experience, when someone says they don’t have time to eat healthy, it really means they don’t want to eat healthy. If this frequently comes up for you, redefine what you view as healthy and create an eating plan that fits your lifestyle and personal preferences. We all have time for what we enjoy and value and eating healthy is no different.
8. I’m really not that hungry, so why eat? While hunger should drive eating, some people don’t trust their hunger, skip meals, and end up eating in an out-of-control-manner when they are famished. Your body does better metabolically when it knows it will be nourished and not deprived. So tell yourself food is a priority and show it by being attentive to hunger, providing yourself with balanced meals at sensible intervals and eating at a designated place like the kitchen table.
9. I don’t like the taste of most healthy foods. I once had a client who hated spinach as he was forced to eat it growing up. But when it was served differently, in a tasty salad, he loved it. Don’t like something healthy? Experiment with different ways of cooking items (roasting, sautéing, in salads etc.) — don’t give up until you love the taste of healthy foods.
10. I’m bored. What do we have to eat? If you find yourself eating out of boredom or in conjunction with some activity like watching TV, you’ve developed the habit of eating in the absence of hunger. Make a point to be mindful, eating at the table and learn to tolerate the feeling you are trying to distract yourself from. It might even lead to something wonderful (like that hobby you’ve been meaning to pick back up).
We constantly hear messages that we can’t control our eating — and our minds regurgitate this day in and day out. If you can learn to avoid that little voice telling you not to trust yourself, and tune in to your body’s wisdom, that’s more than half the battle.