When it comes to health habits, we often think in terms of "good" and "bad" behavior. This can lead to a troubling relationship with food, leading to cravings, food obsession, hyper-fixation on certain foods or ingredients, and binges.
Left unchecked, this type of black-and-white thinking can lead to feeling bad about yourself and self-esteem problems—not to mention worse choices in the long run.
Starting now, make it a point to catch yourself every time you have a deprivation mindset about food. And when you notice yourself thinking in terms of denying or punishing yourself, try to spin your self-talk to a more balanced attitude toward food.
How to do that? Here are some ideas.
Deprivation mindset: "I'm being bad today."
Self-care mindset: "I'm making a different choice today."
Categorizing foods as "bad" or "good" creates judgment, and it's not a healthy practice to praise or punish yourself multiple times daily for what you chose to eat.
Beating yourself up over one meal or treat doesn't make sense when you look at the bigger picture.
If you're making an effort to eat more healthfully most of the time, one lapse isn't going to derail your goals. The key is to focus on how you're feeling, not on what you're eating
Deprivation mindset: "I can't have that, I'm on a diet."
Self-care mindset: "I can eat anything I want, and I'm just making this healthier choice."
Sometimes, when you put inflexible restrictions around what you're eating, you can create a situation where you crave foods that fall outside of your plans. For some people, it's a mild annoyance. For others, it can become a fixation, and you definitely don't want to creep into obsessed-with-food territory.
A balanced attitude toward foods can prevent obsessive or even addictive eating behaviors.
Deprivation mindset: "I'm missing out on the fun."
Self-care mindset: "I'm eating foods that make me feel strong."
The idea of self-care is to identify and meet your needs in a way that is nurturing and satisfying. When it comes to food, that means making choices that make you feel good, both physically and emotionally.
Sure, that might feel like you're missing out, but try to remember your why. Your goals can help keep everything in perspective.
Deprivation mindset: "It's my guilty pleasure."
Self-care mindset: "Being disciplined helps me enjoy occasional treats more."
If you ate wedding cake every evening, would it still be special for an occasion as momentous as a wedding? Nope. Any food can start to feel normal and expected when you overindulged in them—even special celebratory foods.
So, if it's been a while since you've had something that's a little on the indulgent side, you may find that you enjoy it more when you do decide to have some.
And that's a good thing! Savor every bite and know that you're still on track toward your goals.
Deprivation mindset: "These foods are clean and those foods are toxic."
Self-care mindset: "These foods work for me right now and these don't work for me right now."
There's no such thing as "clean" or "toxic" food (unless you drop food in that corner of your kitchen that collects all the dog hair.) Like calling foods "good" or "bad," the concept of clean and dirty eating introduces judgment to what should be a judgment-free zone.
If you describe what you ate in a way that suggests you deserve praise or punishment, you're probably not in the best food mindset.
Deprivation mindset: "I'm being so good today."
Self-care mindset: "I'm making choices that help me feel my best."
Sure, both of these statements are positive, but stating that a food is "good" implies that some foods are "bad." A little mindset tweak takes the judgment out of it.
Deprivation mindset: "I have to work out to make up for what I ate."
Self-care mindset: "I love how working out makes me feel. Moving just lights me up!"
If you feel like your workout is a punishment, are you ever going to feel like you enjoy it? Are you ever going to not dread working out if you feel like it's the result of bad behavior?
Take working out for what it is—moving your body because it makes you feel great in the short-term and makes you stronger in the long-term.
Deprivation mindset: "I'm never going to be able to eat what I want."
Self-care mindset: "I can eat anything I want, but some choices make me feel better than others."
The difference here lies within the flexibility of each statement. The former sounds rigid and sends the message that you're not in control of your life. Spinning your thoughts to say that you choose these behaviors for these reasons can help make you feel empowered.
Try it for a week and notice whether you feel differently about food and health habits. You might surprise yourself!