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Diet & Language: Fostering a Positive Relationship to Food

We’ve all done it. Called a food “junk” or chastised ourselves for enjoying something.

“Oh I’m being so bad today.”
“My diet starts tomorrow, I swear!”
“These are dangerous, get them away from me!”

But how does this language and attitude affect our relationship to food?

As a dietitian, I’ve seen firsthand how the language we use around food can impact our relationship with eating, as well as our relationship to our body and our hunger. Food isn’t just fuel! It is a source of joy, culture, and connection. Therefore, the words we use when discussing food can either nourish or hinder our relationship to it. Let’s explore the importance of using positive language with foods choices as well as offer practical tips to make these shifts in your everyday life.

The Power of Words

Words have power. They shape our perceptions, influence our emotions, and can either build or break our relationship with food. Negative language around food often stems from diet culture, which labels certain foods as “bad” or “guilty pleasures,” while others are deemed “good” or “clean.” This black-and-white thinking can lead to feelings of guilt, shame, and anxiety around eating, which is counterproductive to fostering a healthy relationship with food.

Positive language, on the other hand, focuses on what we can enjoy and include rather than what we should avoid or restrict. It encourages a balanced approach to eating, promoting a mindset of abundance rather than deprivation.

Shifting to Positive Language

This type of shift won’t happen overnight! Start by practicing a few key changes

  1. Focus on what you can add: Instead of emphasizing what you should eliminate from your diet, focus on what you can add. For example, instead of saying, “I need to cut out all junk food,” try saying, “I’m going to add more vegetables to my meals.” This approach promotes a mindset of nourishment and variety.
  2. Celebrate benefits: Highlight the positive aspects of food choices. For instance, instead of saying, “I shouldn’t eat that cake because it’s unhealthy,” reframe it to, “I’m choosing this fruit salad because it makes me feel energized and refreshed.”
  3. Avoid labeling foods as “bad” OR “good”: All foods can fit into a balanced diet. Labeling foods as ‘bad’ can create unnecessary guilt and shame. In the same breath, labeling foods as ‘good’ can lead to unnecessary restriction. Instead, consider all foods on a spectrum and appreciate their different roles in your diet.
  4. Use empowering language: Empower yourself with language that reflects choice and control. For example, “I choose to have a nutritious breakfast because it helps me feel great throughout the day,” rather than, “I have to eat a healthy breakfast.”
  5. Practice mindful eating: Encourage mindfulness by using descriptive and appreciative language about food. Notice and describe the flavors, textures, and aromas of your meals. This practice can enhance your eating experience and foster a deeper appreciation for food.

Practical Tips for Positive Food Language

On top of the above mindfulness practices, use these tips to nourish a positive relationship with food in your day-to-day life.

  • Meal Planning: When planning meals, think in terms of balance and variety. Use language that highlights what each meal offers, such as “This salad is vibrant and full of different nutrients,” rather than “I’m just having a salad to stay on my diet.”
  • Grocery Shopping: Frame your shopping list with positive language. Instead of listing foods to avoid, focus on including a diverse range of foods that you enjoy and that nourish your body.
  • Cooking and Eating Together: When cooking and eating with family or friends, share positive comments about the food. Celebrate the effort, flavors, and the act of coming together to enjoy a meal.
  • Talking to Children: When discussing food with children, use positive reinforcement. Praise them for trying new foods and focus on the fun and colorful aspects of meals. Avoid using food as a reward or punishment.

Remember, food is fuel; but it is also about enjoyment, connection, and nourishment. How we talk about our food is a powerful indicator for how we feel about that food and about our bodies. As a dietitian, my goal is to help you embrace a more positive, inclusive, and balanced approach to eating. By focusing on what we can add to our diets, celebrating the benefits of different foods, and using empowering and descriptive language, we can create a more joyful and nourishing relationship with food. If you would like to learn more about fostering a healthy relationship with food, consider speaking with one of our nutrition experts today!

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