Wellbeing

Reframe Your Eating Attitude

You can change your self-talk about food with these strategies.

How do you talk to yourself about eating? Do you use positive, encouraging words, or do you beat yourself up over food choices? It matters.

The way we talk shapes our behavior, according to Susan Albers, PsyD, a psychologist at the Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland and author of Eating Mindfully. “The example I use is a dandelion. If you describe it as a flower, you’re going to pick it, put it in a vase, and treat it nicely,” she says. “If you call it a weed, you’re going to stomp on it and not value it. It’s the same with ourselves.”

Self-talk is the running commentary we give ourselves in response to life’s events. Positive self-talk is an ally in making lifestyle changes that stick; negative self-talk can sabotage one’s efforts at every turn. Fortunately, it is possible to reframe how you look at eating to be more positive.

Nudge your self-talk into supportive terrain with these suggestions:

Build an eating lifestyle


“We’re really trying to get away from temporary changes—that we call ‘diets’—to lifestyle eating,” says Lauri Wright, PhD, a registered dietitian, nutritionist, and assistant professor at the University of North Florida. Where a diet is short-term and strict, a lifestyle is long-range and forgiving. It takes the pressure off individual food choices, because no one meal or snack can sabotage an entire lifestyle.

Don’t label foods as “good” or “bad”


By extension you feel like a good or bad person when you eat these foods. “Any kind of feeling like a bad person isn’t going to help you to change,” Albers says. It can also lead to bingeing. In reality, foods fall on a spectrum of nutrition, and a healthy attitude allows for moderation.

Add to your lifestyle rather than take away


“Focus on building new habits instead of trying to wrestle free from old, negative habits,” Albers says. In time, the new habits will crowd out the old.

Look beyond the scale


There are normal fluctuations in every person’s weight. Wright encourages paying attention to how healthy changes make you feel. “You might not see it instantly on the scale, but almost immediately you can start feeling better,” she says.

Aim for neutral language


“If you can’t get into the extreme positive state of ‘I love myself, I love my body,’ at least be neutral,” Albers says. She encourages using more adjectives or descriptive terms about your body.

Soften your tone along with your words


Many people talk to themselves using the harshest words in the dictionary (fat, hate, ugly) and deliver them with a negative tone to match. The word “fat,” in particular, Wright observes, is “almost equated with a feeling, rather than a state of excess adipose tissue.” Replace it with forward-looking phrases that encourage.

Treat yourself kindly when you slip up


Take a breath, and acknowledge what happened in a matter-of-fact way. Focus on the specific occurrence without judging your overall worth.

Don’t give up


Keep in mind the mantra “progress, not perfection.” Congratulate yourself for the positive changes you have made so far, and encourage yourself to keep going.

And if you’re having difficulties reframing your eating attitude, consider talking to your Weight Watchers meeting leader. She may have some IRL (in real life) experience that she can pass on to you.