We are so grateful for people who work in the health and wellness world who are up to the good stuff. Erin Judge, of Judge Nutrition & Wellness in Nashville, TN is one of those people.
It's time we change our language.
Last week, I shared a little about my personal relationship with food. I want to continue that conversation & focus on language.
There's been a lot of awareness about self-talk. We probably agree that saying hurtful things about yourself, like "I'm fat" or "I'm not good enough" or "I'm ugly," is a form of self-harm. We would never allow someone to talk to our friends that way, so there's no reason for us to talk to ourselves that way. When was the last time we brought this same awareness to how we talk to ourselves & others about food?
I write this little letter to you with conviction myself, because I struggle in this area. I'm guilty of falling into the trap of #cleaneating & letting my talk about food control how I act & talk about myself. Give me grace as I try to unpack these thoughts & communicate your thoughts back to me.
Here we go.
Stop calling foods GOOD or BAD.
Foods are unable to act, therefore unable to do good or bad things. When we refer to foods as good or bad, we inevitably refer to ourselves as good for eating good foods and bad for eating bad foods. There's a problem with this. Eating food is the way we nourish our bodies, no matter if it's healthy or unhealthy, so you can't be bad for eating food. It's a necessity. Yes, some foods are better for your health & some foods can be harmful, but you will never be able to sustain a healthy lifestyle if your motivation is to be good & not be bad. When you are good, it's easy to fall into reward mode. Example: "I was so good this week & ate salad everyday, so I am going to treat myself with brownies tonight." When you are bad, it's easy to punish & shame yourself. Example: "I was so bad last night for eating a pan of brownies so I am going to spend two hours in the gym to burn it all off." Both of those scenarios sound innocent enough, right? I've said them in some form & I believe many of you have too. The harm with this mentality is that you attribute characteristics about yourself based on food choices & give food the power to control how you think about & treat yourself. It's time we cut these words out of our conversations about food. Stop telling your friends how good you are for choosing nutrient-dense foods, and stop telling yourself you are bad when you either eat more than your body actually needed or when you enjoy a food that may not be as healthy. If you allow shame & guilt to be present by calling yourself or your food choices "bad," then you will block the ability to truly listen to your body.
Food is not a reward.
This is the one that gets me the most. As a dietitian, I was trained to tell parents not to use food as a reward or a punishment for their kids. Both of these can lead to disordered eating patterns in the future for kids & set them up with an unhealthy relationship with food. But, many times we stop taking responsibility for this ourselves. When we reward ourselves through cheat meals & dessert for whatever reason, we can easily become obsessed with indulging in that food. This can lead to binge eating & other disordered eating patterns. That doesn't mean it's wrong to go out for ice cream after you get a promotion or enjoy cake on your birthday. It means that we need to be intentional with our "why." Are you receiving affirmation from those food items? Are you falling into an obsession with earning that cheat meal? The root here is usually much deeper than the reward you're seeking. My advice is to go back & re-define your motivation for the goal you have set. If it was to lose weight, ask yourself why. Losing weight to better your health & prevent risk of disease can be important, so redirect the reason behind the goal. Ditch the reward system altogether & celebrate every single day & moment in your body. Every choice you make to create a healthier life for yourself is a success & can be rewarded through a yoga class, a walk with your dog, quality time with someone you love, affirmation from yourself that your body is good, a minute of meditation, and so on.
There is no such thing as "clean" food.
Yes, I am going there. Clean eating is not a thing & literally makes no sense. You say you are eating clean, so what do you actually mean by that? Are you scrubbing down every food before you eat it? This phrase has gained way too much popularity in our generation. I have been guilty of using it myself, so let me be honest with you. When I say I am eating clean or I hashtag clean eating, I am showing my pride & insecurity. I want to brag about my healthy choice, instead of recognizing that I am choosing to eat what my body needs. Eating a healthy, balanced diet full of a variety of nutrients & whole foods is not a trend. This is how our bodies are designed to be nourished. Let's go back to "good" & "bad," because usually these are coupled. "Clean" is just another way of saying your food is "good," except we don't use the phrase "dirty" on our social media to replace "bad." That's only used in our minds, as another way to beat ourselves down. Food can not be bad & food cannot be dirty, unless you're referring to the literal dirt you wash off beets after you pull them from the ground. If you want to stay literal, then maybe you should choose to eat dirty instead of clean & give your gut some diversity. Silly, right? Right. Let's all lay down our need to be praised for our food choices & replace "clean eating" with "intuitive eating." And actually mean it before we post it. Ouch, that hurt my pride a bit too.
Relationship with Self.
The way you talk about food is a sign of your relationship with food. If you use toxic language, chances are you're in a toxic relationship. To go deeper, your relationship with food is a small glimpse into your relationship with yourself. The tendency here is that you read all of the stuff above, notice areas of toxicity in your life, & immediately start beating yourself up about it. You will never get past these issues with food until you first deal with how you treat yourself. If you find yourself believing negative thoughts about yourself, change your language. If you have taken on toxic beliefs from those around you, change your community. If you truly feel hate towards yourself, seek out professional help to dig that root out. For me, this starts in my spirit. My beliefs & relationship with God have healed my relationship with myself. I have a higher value & purpose than I ever had before. If that's not your belief, take some time & find what is. Be vulnerable & honest with those you trust. Take the time you need & give yourself grace along the way. It's worth it. This is outside of my scope of practice, but if you need help in this area I can recommend amazing professionals for you.
What can you do today?
All those things I just said could take years to completely change in your life. There are roots & layers behind those words, so it's okay to be in a process with it all. I'm right there with you. But, it's not okay to sit back & do nothing. Here are some vocabulary words you can change today as your first step.
Diet: your way of eating; this is NOT restriction; everyone has a diet
Clean eating: does not make sense; stop using it
Intuitive eating: listening to your body & giving it the nutrients it needs
Cheat meal: a meal you reward yourself with after a period of restriction; can lead to binge eating & ideas that this food may be "bad" or a "guilty pleasure"; not present in a healthy relationship with food
Good & Bad: characteristics that are attributed based on actions & moral beliefs; not possible descriptions food or for yourself for eating food
Goals to be a healthier version of yourself are not bad. Weight loss is not always bad. Eating whole foods & prioritizing healthy nourishment is not bad. Exercising is not bad. Limiting foods like sugar or alcohol is not bad.
These things become toxic when they are motivated by an unhealthy relationship with self & fueled by an unhealthy relationship with food; when we begin to obsess & beat ourselves up over food, exercise, body image, comparison, & more. If you want to continue this conversation & learn how to reach goals through intuitive eating & care for yourself, I would love to work with you. Reach out, share your thoughts, & be a little more kind to yourself today.
Erin, thank you for letting us share this post! Originally posted on JudgeNutrition.com Feb 2018