More often than I can count I’ve heard the following statements:
“This cheesecake is low in calories so you can enjoy a ‘guilt-free’ dessert”
“Gonna take advantage of my ‘cheat’ day and eat all things sugar while I can”
“Omg. I was so ‘bad’ this week, I had cake and ice cream.”
“I’ve been so ‘good’ on my diet. I haven’t ‘cheated’ once.”
And it makes me cringe. Because it makes me feel sad that so many of us are attaching our eating behaviors and our food choices to our self-worth. How can one possibly have a healthy relationship with food when eating a cookie makes them feel like they were “bad”?
The mentality behind the words we choose to describe what we eat drives our relationship with food. Which is why these 5 cringe-worthy diet words need be removed from our vocabulary, so space can be made for a balanced way of life that allows all foods without judgment.
The term guilt-free implies that there should be guilt in the first place. Kelsey Lorencz, RD says “ [the term] ‘guilt-free’ is only setting us up to feel ashamed when we actually eat the food how it was intended to be eaten or, god forbid, how we enjoy it. Let’s get rid of the ‘guilt free’ and actually be free of guilt when eating.”
Feeling guilt with food leads to restriction which drives the vicious dieting cycle. You should never have to feel guilty about enjoying food, we are naturally driven to eat foods we like because we are human.
“ Let’s get rid of ‘guilt-free’ and actually be free of guilt when eating.”
– Kelsey Lorencz, RD
The word “cheating” is one that you can’t help but feel is associated with a low moral standing. “You may cheat on your significant other, your taxes or in sports,” says Cathy Leman, MA RD LD “but ‘cheating’ with food? Only fuels guilt, deprivation and black/white thinking.”
Saying that you “cheated” also pins a negative self-image of yourself. And “allowing” yourself a “cheat” or “cheat day” highlights restriction and the deprivation state that you are in.
“[the term] ‘Cheating’ with food only fuels guilt, deprivation, and black & white thinking.” Cathy Leman, MA RD LD
3. Clean Eating
Although it may have been intended to create a focus on whole foods and food products made with less synthetic ingredients it has turned into a fear-mongering movement by many self-proclaimed health “experts”. As if any food that does not fall under the approval of “clean eaters” is toxic and consuming them ranks you lower on the ethics scale. Elizabeth Ward, MS RD says “Many people have taken the concept of eating “clean” too far… I can’t get past the notion that if you’re not eating “clean,” then you’re eating “dirty.” I also get the idea that some die-hard “clean” eaters look down on those who can’t, or don’t want to.”
While choosing foods made with wholesome ingredients is something I promote, I feel the term “clean-eating” has become judgmental in its tone and can lead to disordered eating, which is why I avoid using this term.
“ I can’t get past the notion that if you’re not eating “clean,” then you’re eating “dirty.” – Elizabeth Ward, MS RD
4. Good vs. Bad
I can’t keep track of how many times I will hear clients say that they have been “bad” or “good” based on the food choices they made. Or ask if a certain food product is “good” or “bad” and if they are allowed to have it. ‘“By classifying our foods as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ we are allowing them to classify us.” says Bethany Frazier, MS RDN LD “Of course, there are foods that are better for us, but eating a “bad” food choice every once in awhile still provides your body with fuel, and eating only “good” foods doesn’t make us perfect, it makes us obsessed”.
“By classifying our foods as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ we are allowing them to classify us” – Bethany Frazier, MS RDN LD
Our society’s standard of thinness is not attainable for everyone, we all have different body types and genetics. Creating an expectation that everyone can be skinny if they just work hard enough isn’t only untrue and unfair, it’s unhealthy. Elizabeth Ward, MS RD says “It really bothers me that skinny is used as an aspirational term, because going for “skinny” can be detrimental to a healthy body image. In addition, being waif-like in appearance doesn’t automatically guarantee good health”.
Julie Dillon, RD adds, “Fire shoots out of my ears when I find a recipe or food product with the word “skinny” in the title (e.g. skinny lasagna). It takes an obsession with diets and highlights its fat phobia. No one food will cause a body to be smaller, that is magical thinking. And, research shows diets don’t keep weight off long term anyway.”
“The word “skinny” takes an obsession with diets and highlights its fat phobia” – Julie Dillon, RD
The words you choose to describe your foods can set the stage for the relationship you have with food. These terms that are so overly used – terms that the dieting industry loves – fuels the dieting flame, and with it a destructive and negative eating behavior and mindset. One that discreetly sends the message that if you eat and enjoy foods that are not “clean” you should feel “guilty” and “bad” about yourself. They make you feel wrong for being human and wanting to actually enjoy a slice of cake, god forbid.
Today, make the decision to reject these words and stop using them. Instead, embrace all the foods that make you feel good. Sometimes that will be a salad, other times it will be a slice of cake. You deserve to enjoy both without judgment, guilt, or bad feelings.
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