When it comes to healthy eating it’s all too easy to simply focus on what we eat.

But honestly, if it was that simple, we’d all have nailed it by now right?

The truth is that what we eat is only part of the picture. Often, why and how we eat can be just as important, if not more so.

One thing that often gets overlooked when we are working on our eating habits, or just our well-being in general, is how we talk about food. Whether it’s to our bestie over brunch, our co-workers in the break room or ourselves in our head, how we talk about food matters.

If you want to change your relationship with food and eat in a way that nourishes you, then working on the way you talk about food is a must.

Here are some ideas to get you started.

Remove the labels

No, I don’t mean peeling the labels of your packaging – I mean the labels we place on foods to categorize them: healthy/unhealthy; good/bad; clean/toxic. These labels are not helpful.

Food is morally neutral, so it doesn’t need to be judged. All you are doing when you use these labels is ultimately judging yourself (or others) for eating certain foods. You are either “good” for sticking to the rules or “bad” if you don’t and I’m sure you’re no stranger to the kinds of self talk that happens when you eat something “bad.” It’s all negative and shaming.

Also, when you think of foods as good or bad they become either allowed or forbidden, and I’m sure you know what happens when you start thinking of things as forbidden. They become desirable. This sort of thinking actually leads to the very outcomes you are trying to avoid – emotional eating, overeating and over focus on food.

The truth is that it’s this type of thinking, not the foods themselves, that cause us to feel out of control around them.

Work towards an “all foods fit” mindset. Lift the mental restriction and ditch the judgement-laden labels.

Let food be food.

Call off the inner food police

You may not be saying everything out loud but there is a whole lot of talk going on in your head that impacts your relationship with eating.

If you are constantly judging the choices you make, laying out all the food rules and just generally being an inner bully, it’s time to cease and desist.

Get curious about the self-talk you do around food. Is it negative or positive? Is it judgmental or neutral? Is it acting like an inner bully or giving you compassion? You may be surprised about how harsh you can actually be to yourself around eating.

From the food rules, to the “shoulds and shouldn’ts” and those labels again (see above) – we are constantly judging what we eat and by extension, our own worthiness.

The best way to challenge the inner food police is with fact. Use your own experience or go to a reputable source if you need to. Sometimes your thoughts are simply not true. Hard to believe but you really shouldn’t believe everything you say to yourself.

You are not your thoughts.

Rewrite the script

Once you’ve started challenging the way you talk to yourself around food the next step is to change it.

Often we are on auto-pilot when it comes to how we talk around food. What’s the story you are telling yourself and how could it be re-written?

Try to talk in a more positive or neutral way around eating. Self talk can be adjusted to ditch the negative. Being more positive is great but even a bit of neutrality can make a big difference. Here are a few examples to get you started.

– “I shouldn’t eat that.” TO “I can have that if I want it, all food fit, what do I feel like in this moment?”

– “I failed, I’m so hopeless.” TO “Not what I had planned; Is there anything I can take away from this?”

– ‘That food is bad, I need to avoid it.”  TO  “No food is ‘bad'”, when I chose to eat that food how does it make me feel?”

– “I’m no good at this.” TO “I’m learning… I can give it another try.”

– “I’ve failed, again!” TO “Things didn’t work out this time but I can learn from this.”

– “This will never work for me” TO “This is worth a try. What’s the worst that can happen?

You’ll notice that curiosity is part of the process too. Rather than rely on black and white thinking around food, try and get curious with your self-talk and add some shades of grey.

Set aside some time to re-script. Keep a list of thoughts that pop up and then rework them. It can be helpful to keep a list of your common food thoughts and then alternative re-scripted versions written down and stuck somewhere or saved in your phone so that you can grab it when you need.

In the moment it can be pretty hard to stop and change our auto-pilot thinking. It’s a great idea to practice these things in advance.

Sprinkle in some self-compassion

How often do you direct compassion at yourself?

If you’re anything like the majority of the women I know professionally and personally (including myself!) I’ll take a stab in the dark and guess rarely.

Being self compassionate is not about being self indulgent or letting things slide. Instead it’s simply treating ourselves like we would a best friend.

There are three elements to self compassion:

– Being kind to yourself
– Being aware of thoughts and feelings but not attaching to them
– Recognizing that you are not alone in your experience

The research is pretty clear on this one––the more self compassion we have the better we are at taking care of ourselves and our well-being, and that includes how we eat.

Self-compassion is something we could all do with a little more of.

Changing the way you talk around food takes awareness, curiosity and compassion. But it’s well worth the effort to make a few positive shifts to improve your relationship with food and ultimately your health.