Why Words Matter

4 min read

Dieting, making changes to your health and fitness; they can all feel like huge challenges sometimes. But how can words matter when it comes to your relationship with food and your goals? Vic from @nutritionwithvic is breaking down why the way you speak to yourself matters.

Words Matter

Imagine the scenario - you’re eating in a calorie deficit, you’re paying attention to your habits and showing up to achieve your goals… but there may be one key to maintaining those in the long run that you haven’t turned your attention to yet…

Your words.

How we use words, and the language we adopt to communicate various intentions, emotions and actions, is so powerful and can (and will) dictate how successful you are in achieving either the short term or long term outcome. The stories and messages we tell ourselves will nearly always have an impact on our actions. So if we tell ourselves we’re never going to be successful, guess what the outcome is likely to be?

If you find you use any limiting and disempowering language when it comes to food, eating habits and even yourself, now could be a positive time to change that, alongside the other actions you’re taking that will get you closer to your goals, and set you up for success! These are often small, subtle changes to make but could help you along the way to improving your relationship with food, and this can have a long-lasting impact on your success.

You are what you speak (and think!)

Be aware of the language you’re using. Start to pay a little more attention to this; start tuning in to things you say about yourself, eating habits, certain foods (e.g. do you use emotive words when you talk about food or eating?)

Identify the triggers to those thoughts or words (e.g. what has caused you to use those words?)

Think about whether that language is helpful or not (e.g. does using certain words evoke certain emotions such as guilt or shame?)

Change the narrative

Once you’ve identified some of the triggers and what comes next, it’s time to work on this. Reframing is about changing the interpretation of a situation, or experience.

Here are some really common phrases that come - usually - from a history of fad dieting or just a background where you have had a poor relationship with food, accompanied with some simple tips to address and reframe these:

3 Examples of how disempowering language with food can be overcome

1)     “Cheat” Days or Meals

You’re not ‘cheating’, you’re simply eating. Calling a day with more calories or food than usual a ‘cheat’ day implies that you’re being dishonest, or being unfair. While it’s possible (and not ideal!) to cheat on a partner or on an exam, this isn’t a term that I particularly support the use of when it comes to food. Reframe this to being just simply a day where you’ve eaten a little more than usual, so it becomes less about having done something wrong. Consider looking at your dietary habits during the week; it may come from a place of over-restriction that you feel you need a day to have a blow-out - sometimes just better planning of your calories or a more inclusive approach to certain foods over the week can negate the need to feel you need a day to blow off steam.

2)     “I’m going to be good this week”

If you tell yourself you’re going to ‘be good’ ou’re attaching a moral value to your behaviour with food. Be more matter of fact… Define ‘good’ in a more constructive way that removes the moral value. E.g. ‘This week I’m going to set 3 x goals that I’m going to aim to hit and these include eating a little more protein, having fruit or veggies with each meal and moving my body in a way that feels good on at least 4 days’. Not only does this take away the ‘good’ (and in turn mean if you don’t achieve it, it must be ‘bad’), but also creates a better framework on mini goals or actions rather than just trying to change all of your habits and behaviours in one go.

“I’ll give up naughty treats to help”

Try not to call certain foods ‘naughty’ foods or ‘treats’; a bit like your eating habits, this can attach a moral value to your foods by making them feel like they’re only for a special occasion, or that it’s something that you don’t want others to find out about; this may create a cycle of behaviours that means you attach negative emotions to certain foods. Think about the context of the food you’ve eaten; for example, we don’t eat all of our food just purely for physical health or performance - food is also there to be enjoyed and represents other moments in our life like social occasions. Some foods may not align perfectly with our goals, but it can play other roles such as enjoying a dish that someone has made especially for us to try.

Try and tune into the language you use when you talk about food and your eating habits, identify language that might benefit from some reframing, or flipping the narrative around, and this is much more likely to strengthen your relationship with food, allowing you to not only reach your goals but have a less emotive or volatile approach to your eating habits moving forward.