Words are very powerful. The three words, “I can’t have _______ (fill in food or ingredient),” and the related phrase, “I’m not allowed to have,” often backfire by triggering deprivation, cravings, rebellion, and the eat-repent-repeat cycle.
These words strip away your choice and your power. You’re an adult, so unless you have a serious food allergy, so you can have anything you want. You are simply making a choice.
More often than not, “I can’t have” is based on a rule from whatever diet you’re following. However, when you say, “I can’t have bread,” or “I can’t eat sugar,” your brain focuses on bread and sugar! With your brain on high alert, you’ll begin to notice bread and sugar everywhere. Since you’re “not allowed to have it,” that triggers feelings of deprivation and cravings that eventually lead to overeating.
The Mindful Eating Cycle from my book series Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat is a powerful decision making tool that eliminates the need for all those rules. Instead of focusing on what you can’t have, you use a few new and surprisingly simple strategies to create critical shifts in your relationship with food. You can eat what you love — fearlessly.
Of course, you may not want the consequences or side effects you experience when you eat certain foods. One of the many benefits of mindful eating is the ability to make connections between what (or how much) you eat and how you feel. If you recognize that a particular food leaves you feeling uncomfortable, you may make the choice to skip that food or eat less of it in the future.
Use More Powerful Words
Affirm that you’re in charge of the decisions you make by using these other phrases instead:
- I choose not eat _________.
- I’d rather have __________.
- I prefer __________.
- Or simply, No thank you.
What About Diabetes?
Some individuals, such as those who have diabetes or those who have had bariatric surgery, do much better when they limit or eliminate certain foods. Even then, the key to making sustainable changes is to apply mindful eating strategies without turning those limitations into a restrictive diet that you might be on for the rest of your life.
My favorite definition of mindful eating is eating with intention and attention. Assuming that your intention is to feel great, think about your dietary decisions as choices you make in order to feel your best, rather than based on what you can or can’t eat. Mindful eating guides you to balance eating for nourishment, health, and enjoyment so you’re free to focus your energy on living your life vibrantly!
(And while we’re talking about the power of words, why not eliminate “should” and “shouldn’t” too!)