In my health coaching practice, I read a lot of food journals.
Keeping an account of your eating patterns, complete with accompanying physical and emotional states, can be an invaluable tool in examining your relationship with your mind, body, and plate. But it can be scary to let someone else in on your most vulnerable food moments, and the whole process can stir up quite a few insecurities.
“I had a bad food day.” I hear this one a lot. I hear it from my clients as well as my friends and coworkers. In fact, this sort of language is pretty pervasive. I let myself go. I fell off the wagon. I went to my dark place. I’ve heard people use all of these phrases and more when describing a self-perceived food transgression.
I had a bad food day. One of my clients muttered it with shame as she recounted her previous week. For some reason, it bothered me more than usual. Perhaps it was because this client is one of the most radiant, wonderful women I know, and I couldn’t stand that she would beat herself up for eating a few sweets amid her generally impeccable diet. The phrase just seemed so judgmental, so determinate. It was the last time I ever wanted to hear “I had a bad food day” ever again.
So I gave her an assignment to find a word other than ‘bad’ to describe that day and others like it. Two weeks later she offered an alternative that took my breath away, along with permission to share it here with you.
“I’ve been thinking a lot about freedom and restraint,” she said. “Too much of either is a bad thing. With freedom and restraint, it’s really all about finding a healthy balance. And that’s why instead of saying I had a bad food day, I think I’ll say that I was being free with myself or that I had a free food day.”
She went on to describe that in re-framing the sentence, she was able to re-frame the sentiment. A few indulgences no longer felt like an unforgivable sin, but instead like a necessary and logical counterbalance to the nearly constant restraint she attempts to impose on her diet. And balance is a very good thing.
So if in the coming weeks your relationship with food doesn’t go the way you envision, take a moment to consider the words you use, with yourself and others. For my part, the next time I pair my apple with the better part of a jar of peanut butter (What, me? Never!), I’ll do my best to embrace it as an experiment in being free with myself. This is America, after all. Let’s allow ourselves a little freedom now and then.