Woman looking at the water

Self-talk (or the narrative that runs through our head on the daily!) has a huge impact on whether or not we have a healthy relationship with food. There are several common phrases that I often hear clients identify as holding them back from true food freedom, which we’ll explore more here.

As I’m sure is the case for many people, my most cherished family memories involve food.  Sitting around the table at my Oma’s house every Sunday for a big family lunch: laughing, talking, and enjoying a delicious home-cooked meal, which included beloved family recipes.  I think of my love for food and the traditions we have, as inherited gifts from my family.

Although food can bring so much connection, it can also be a daily source of inner conflict for many people. I hear this in the weight of the words used by my clients, family, and friends (and admittedly myself at times!) when talking about food and how they feel about their bodies.

self-talk food relationship

Why does self-talk matter?

Our food self-talk is the running commentary inside our heads about our food choices and our bodies. It’s the story we all tell ourselves, about ourselves. For some, these thought patterns can be highly self-critical and make us feel at war with food.

Self-talk is often automatic, reflecting our core beliefs, the food rules we created for ourselves, and our lived experiences that we’ve internalized beginning in childhood. Things we would never think or say to our dearest friends and family, we let fly in our own minds.  Think about whether you would talk to your child the way you talk to yourself – sometimes that thought is horrifying.  And yet…we so often let these subliminal messages run through our head hundreds of times a day, dictating our self-worth. 

It can be intimidating and overwhelming to think about changing our thoughts and beliefs.  Curiosity is the first step.  First, identifying what these thoughts and beliefs are (often they are so engrained, we don’t even realize the narrative that is running in the background 24/7!), can be a powerful step in making conscious change.

Some questions to ask yourself:

  • What does your inner voice say about your food and eating decisions?
  • What tone does the voice take on? Is it critical, or harsh like a bully? Or is it kind and compassionate?
  • Is there a difference in what you hear when you eat broccoli vs. when you eat ice cream?
  • What rules do you tell yourself about food? (e.g., I’m only allowed to eat bread once/day, no carbs at dinner etc)
  • What do you tell yourself when you look in the mirror?

Here’s the thing – WORDS HAVE POWER. The words we say to ourselves CAN truly affect how we’re feeling, and how we behave. They can frame how we see the world.

Just because a thought comes into our mind, it doesn’t make it real or true! This is one of the principles of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy: recognizing these false and unhelpful thought patterns (cognitive distortions), and working to re-frame them using more positive and productive self-talk.

self-talk food relationship

Here are 7 common self-talk statements about your food relationship, and what to say instead:

You might say:

“I was so bad this week”

Try saying this instead:

“All foods have a place in a healthy diet. Starting at my next meal, I’m going to focus on eating foods that make me feel my best and tuning into my hunger and fullness cues.”

What makes this more helpful:

Your self-worth is not defined by what you eat. The trouble with labeling foods as “bad” is that we start to project that feeling onto ourselves when we eat them. Feeling bad and shameful about our food choices can lead us down a path of trying to be overly restrictive with ourselves, which in turn, can lead to overeating or rebound eating. If this is a challenge for you, fellow RD Rachael at The Real Life RD has some great info on moving beyond the “good” and “bad”, black and white thinking with food here.

You might say:

“I am totally out of control with snacking”

Try saying this instead:

“I didn’t eat enough today, so it makes sense that I was ravenous by 7pm. This is a good reminder to have a solid source of protein at lunch and to pack a snack for the afternoon”

What makes this more helpful:

Asking questions from a neutral standpoint is key to giving us the confidence that we can simply plan to do it differently next time.  What led to feeling out of control? Was I bored/anxious/disappointed or famished?

You might say:

“I have no willpower”

Try saying this instead:

“I know I eat well when I have nourishing meals and snacks on hand. I’m going to come up with a plan for food for the week and make sure I have some quick and easy options ready.

What makes this more helpful:

Willpower is one of the biggest myths when it comes to healthy eating.  It’s simply not about willpower.  In fact, the more you try to muscle your way through a restrictive eating plan, the more likely you are to eventually overeat.  It’s our physiology, it’s how humans are made.  The truth is, at times, we all eat more than what we physically need, or for reasons other than physical hunger. This is normal and okay. If this is something that happens often for you, get curious about what triggers your eating pattern, and think about specific actions that could help divert this pattern.  Getting to the root cause of problematic eating is what can lead to sustainable solutions.

You might say:

“I look horrible in [insert shorts/jumpsuits/bathing suit, etc.]”

Try saying this instead:

“I don’t feel my best in that. I always feel good and comfortable in a dress though, so let’s try that”

What makes this more helpful:

This kind of body shame talk simply makes us feel bad. It’s okay not to love everything about your body all the time- most of us don’t! Using more neutral language when talking about your body is a good step towards body acceptance and appreciation.  

You might say:

“I shouldn’t be eating this”

Try saying this instead:

“I love ______[insert faves here]! I’m going to enjoy this and feel really satisfied”

What makes this more helpful:

Healthy eating includes pleasure. When we place guilt on ourselves for eating forbidden foods, we lose out on the enjoyment food can bring. Giving yourself permission to eat and enjoy without guilt will let you feel genuinely satisfied with the right amount of food.

You might say:

“I’m not going to have any sugar for the next 30 days”

Try saying this instead:

“I know restrictive diets don’t work long term, and healthy eating is a process. I’m going to take it one meal at a time, and focus on tasty, nutritious meals.”

What makes this more helpful:

When we abandon restriction and food rules, we can focus our energy on enjoying a good variety of tasty and nourishing foods and have flexibility in our eating. As for health, it’s the overall pattern of what we eat over time that counts. Anything that can’t be maintained long term is unlikely to be helpful, and can actually be counterproductive, resulting in a cycle of restriction, overeating, and guilt.

You might say:

If I could just lose 10lbs, I would be so much happier”

Try saying this instead:

“I accept my body and appreciate all the things it does for me. I’m focusing on habits that help me feel good and take care of myself long term”

What makes this more helpful:

When people express wanting to lose weight, what they are often seeking is not the number on the scale, but more body confidence, better relationships, more energy, etc. The truth is, achieving these goals often has nothing to do with weight loss.  While wanting to lose weight is completely understandable, given the society we live in, voicing appreciation for your body and thanking it for the things it does for you every day can help move you towards body acceptance. Putting your energy into eating well and moving your body in ways you enjoy are keys to good health and feeling your best, regardless of weight change (read more about our thoughts on weight and health here)

self-talk food relationship

An invitation to change your self-talk and food relationship

I challenge you to tune in to the broadcast inside your head, and what it’s saying about food and your body. How can you replace blame and negativity with neutral, compassionate, helping words or affirmations? This self-compassion takes practice and patience, but it will help turn those automatic thoughts into more positive ones, which will ultimately help you feel true food freedom. 

Need help with figuring out what this might look like for you?  We specialize in helping clients heal their relationship with food.  Reach out to book a free 20-minute clarity call to see if we’d be a good fit for you!

Take it one bite at a time,

Cara

This post was co-written by Cara Kasdorf, RD and Natalee Miller, RD.