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How Saying “I can’t eat that” Ruins Healthy Eating

“I can’t eat that!” And other negative thoughts that derail healthy eating.

Even if it’s only in your head, words have power. So let’s choose our words carefully. Maybe you’re surprised to learn that negative thoughts might be holding you back. I’m not because I’ve observed it so much over the years working with people aiming to lose weight, manage blood sugar levels, reduce cholesterol and so forth.

cookies on a platter may lead to emotional eating

These yummy toffee cookies are a treat (not a cheat).

The good news is that negative thoughts and self-talk can be unlearned. And then eating and living a healthful lifestyle seem so much easier and way more fun!

6 things to stop saying about eating

Hint: A lot of these harmful sentences have negative words in them like “never,” “can’t” and “shouldn’t.”

1.  Stop saying: “I can’t eat that.” Unless you’re allergic or otherwise intolerant, of course you can eat that cookie or pizza or whatever. By forbidding yourself to eat something you want, you’re just setting yourself up for feeling deprived. And that often leads to giving up on the healthy eating plan or getting into a terrible cycle of eat-regret-repeat.

  • Instead say: “I choose not to eat that because it doesn’t fit with my goals. Alternatively, you can learn to enjoy your favorite foods in reasonable amounts. Check out How to Manage Food Cravings.

2.  Stop saying: “I’ll never lose weight or manage my blood sugar.” Just stop right there. Never is a mighty long time, and thoughts are not facts. Not being successful right now isn’t and doesn’t have to be a sign of what’s to come. In fact, I can’t think of too many people who have successfully and permanently lost weight without several attempts.

  • Instead say: “I’m still figuring out this healthy eating stuff.” And that’s the truth, isn’t it?

3.  Stop saying: “If my co-workers can manage to bring a healthy lunch to work, I should too.” Social comparisons are generally flawed. That’s because no one is just like you. No one has your body, preferences, schedule, obligations, life experiences and so on.

  • Instead say: “I want to pack my lunch for work.” Then make a plan to do just that. Your plan might involve asking for help, creating a menu, cooking extra for dinner to carry leftovers, prepping foods on the weekends, starting a lunch club at work or any number of things. Whatever your goal is, you’re more likely to celebrate success if you have strategies rather than just working harder, relying on unreliable willpower, or shaming yourself for not being like others.

4.  Stop saying: “I’ll start my diet over tomorrow (or Monday). If you faltered on your healthy eating plan today, recognize it and move on – right now. Not tomorrow. And certainly not on Monday. One meal or one day doesn’t make your diet a disaster – any more than it could make your diet terrific. And the damage of one day is likely to be nothing or very little. Waiting to get back on track just takes you farther from your goals. This is the all-or-nothing mindset in action. Check out Your Brain’s Autopilot is Destroying Your Diet.

  • Instead say: “Yikes, I did not behave in my best interest. Let me shake that off, and get right back on track. Then forgive your mistake, recognize that there’s no need for it to have a lasting effect, and make the next choice a healthy choice.

5.  Stop saying: “I’ll exercise tonight to make up for those fried chicken wings (or other perceived taboo food).” Goodness gracious, exercise is not a form of punishment for misbehavior, and eating something unplanned and undesirable isn’t reason to be punished anyway. Go for a run or head to the gym for all the reasons that exercise is awesome. Don’t try to sweat away extra calories or the sins of overindulgence. Take a look at What You Need to Know about Exercise for Weight Loss.

  • Instead say: “Those fried chicken wings didn’t do my health any good, so I’m back on track right now.” And mean it.

6.  Stop saying: “I deserve these extra appetizers or desserts because I’ve had a hard week.” You know that what you eat and drink and how hard life has been lately are really unrelated. What you do deserve is good health and good times. It’s okay to treat yourself, but call it a treat. Don’t justify it.

  • Instead say: “I’m going to treat myself with just a little something extra tonight.”

Listen for hurtful self-talk

As I said at the beginning: Words have power. The words we chose to say to ourselves can empower us or take our power away.

If you wouldn’t say it to a friend, it’s probably not helpful to say it to yourself either. So #1: Speak to yourself from a place of kindness and truth.

Good things rarely come from shame or from feeling like a victim. So #2: Get rid of the negative language: can’t, shouldn’t, wouldn’t. “I shouldn’t eat in that restaurant” or “I can’t keep ice cream in the house without pigging out” are making you out to be weak or a victim. Be empowered with “I choose not to eat in that restaurant” or “I haven’t yet mastered managing portions when I have ice cream in the freezer.”

For more on self-talk and emotional eating, give these a read.

Have you caught yourself in negative thoughts or using hurtful language with yourself?

Jill Weisenberger

Jill Weisenberger, MS, RDN, CDE, CHWC, FAND, is a Nutrition, Culinary & Diabetes Expert, Wellcoach®-certified health and wellness coach, Freelance Writer, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Certified Diabetes Educator. She's also the author of four books, including a best-seller. She's a nationally-recognized media expert in high demand for print and online interviews, as well as corporate and one-on-one nutritional counseling. Jill's philosophy is that nutrition science should be understandable, realistic and oh so delicious.

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1 Comment

  1. Jenday on August 13, 2019 at 2:05 pm

    This is very motivating!

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Like most of my patients and clients, I lead a busy life. You probably do too. Fortunately, you don’t need weeks, days or even hours to start living better and healthier. This blog offers timesaving strategies and bite-sized nutrition and health information. Come by often for tips and inspiration to healthy living – no matter how busy you are. I am a registered dietitian nutritionist offering credible, practical nutrition advice to keep busy people healthy. Yes indeed, we can be both busy and healthy.

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