If you want to bring an end to your own diet culture mentality, a key piece is recognizing the kind of language you and those around you use when speaking about one’s food, diet and body. The words that we choose are powerful and the way that words are phrased make a tremendous impact on both our conscious and subconscious thinking.
When it comes to loving our bodies, words have historically been used to control or subjugate our thoughts about our bodies. We’ve been told through the media and others about how we should feel about our bodies.
In this blog post, Evolve Wellness Group founder Shrein Bahrami and Evolve dietician Rebecca Lee share common phrases that may have unintended negative outcomes around diet culture and body-size stigma and new ways to rephrase our words to be more inclusive.
- “I feel so fat today.”
- When someone is struggling with feeling comfortable in their body, stating they feel fat provides a window into their emotions. Given that fat is not an actual feeling or emotion, I will encourage my clients to identify other feelings that are present. Doing so helps them recognize how these other underlying feelings influence their experience of feeling fat or uncomfortable. Yet, instead of berating their bodies, they can productively address the underlying feelings.
- “I’m going to be bad and have [certain food].”
- This is one of the most common phrases I hear, not only in my work with clients as a registered dietitian but in my community of friends and family. Our culture has locked into this binary idea of “good” and “bad” foods. However, when we use these labels, we in turn are labeling ourselves as “good” or “bad” for consuming said foods, creating a moral hierarchy. In my work with clients, my goal is to make all foods neutral; to break down this perceived pecking order. One is not “bad” for eating a cookie or “good” for eating a salad. Instead, if all foods were neutral, you can ask yourself: what do I actually want to eat? What will be the most satisfying option for me at this moment? We are making space for ALL foods.
- “You’re not fat, you’re beautiful!”
- This phrase implies that fatness is in opposition to beauty. This belief is one that stigmatizes larger bodies and negatively impacts one’s body image, regardless of their size. Having fat on one’s body is a fact, but one’s perception of beauty is not. The degree of comfort around fatness is largely influenced by diet culture. Instead of saying “You’re not fat”, you could simply say, “I think you’re beautiful”.
- “You look amazing!” [after someone appears to have lost weight.]
- Commenting that someone “looks amazing” after what you may perceive as them losing weight is actually very damaging, but unfortunately, so normalized in our culture. Unbeknownst to you, this person may be struggling with an eating disorder, illness, or severe stress that has limited their appetite. Further, a comment like this promotes the stigmatizing and inaccurate belief that being thin is superior to having a larger body. The next time you catch yourself wanting to compliment someone based on their appearance, try something non-appearance related, such as “Your energy lights up a room,” or “I admire your passion for …” Your companion will feel the difference, and you won’t be reinforcing the belief that our worth is tied to our appearance.
By becoming more aware of how our words impact our self-image and those around us, we can choose not to use language that encourages diet culture and body stigma. Instead, we can communicate in a more empowered and authentic way.