What Do You Say About Food?

10 April 2019 | Written by Xenia Ayiotis

“Unless you stole the food or killed the chef, there is no place for morality or guilt in eating”

— Evelyn Tribole —

Words are powerful. How we speak matters. The words we choose to use to describe our food have an effect on our relationship with food and on our relationship with ourselves.

How familiar are these statements? You’ve probably heard them hundreds of times without even thinking.

“I should probably order the salad but I am really tempted by the pasta”

“I had such a hard workout so I’ll indulge and the have the burger & fries”

I’m having pizza , I’m allowed to, it’s a “cheat day”

“I’ll make up for it by eating salad tomorrow”

“I’ve eaten so badly  this weekend” or “I had no sugar, it was such a good week

Sound familiar?

Lets look at some of the words we often use to describe food:

Good       Bad
Healthy       Unhealthy
Right       Wrong
Allowed       Forbidden
Clean       Dirty
Pure       Toxic
Safe       Addictive

Guilty pleasure * Downfall * Guilt-free * Sinful * Decadent * Naughty * Moreish

The language we choose to describe how we eat and what we eat every day, matters. If we choose to describe our eating as bad, wrong and sinful – we tend to internalise these words and believe we are bad, wrong and sinful.

What is morally right and “good” about eating kale and morally “wrong” about eating chocolate?

“All foods are morally neutral”

— Dr Rick Kausman —

Using moralistic terms around food creates feelings of guilt and shame in us for eating, how good can that be for us?

Using this language isn’t going to stop us from eating these foods, it’s simply going to make us feel bad and take away the enjoyment and pleasure from the experience. Why do we need to fill a pleasurable and nourishing activity with judgement?

Think about it. How do you feel when you eat something and while you are eating it you are saying:

“This is bad, I shouldn’t be eating it” = “I am bad for eating it”

In most cases, that thought will result in all-or-nothing thinking: “I’ve blown it, so I might as well carry on.” Whereas if you were simply enjoying it, you would eat it and move on.

Food is neutral. The ingredients in cake are flour, sugar, butter and cocoa; a salad is lettuce, cucumber, tomato and onion. These are simply a bunch of ingredients, neither good nor bad. It’s the meaning that we attach to them that makes food complicated.

“….for there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so. To me it is a prison…”

— Hamlet —

What if we used words like satisfying, energising, depleting, filling, light or rich? Or sensory words like creamy, crunchy, spicy? How would that change the entire eating experience?

One of the principles in Intuitive Eating is to “challenge the food police”, similarly in mindful eating, we are invited to practice an attitude of non-judgement. The food police and food judgement is housed deep in our conditioning and diet culture.  So, how do we counter it?

The first step is awareness.

Awareness of our language and how we talk about food and eating.

The second step is to notice.

Notice how it feels to talk about food in moralistic terms and how it feels to talk about food in neutral or factual ways.

The third step is to actively choose to talk differently about food, to actively change our language.

What is one small step you can take today? Notice how often you use the words good or bad to describe food choices. Think of other more neutral words you could use.

“Foods are not good, or bad. Not right, or wrong. Food is just food”

— Dr Rick Kausman —

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