HFG editor and dietitian Brooke Longfield urges us to mind our language around food and bring the joy back into eating.
I have a vivid memory of being caught, at about seven years old, spoon-in-hand, eating from a giant tub of Neapolitan ice cream. I remember the feelings of shame and guilt — feelings I’m sure I wouldn’t have felt had I been caught with my hand in the fruit bowl. Decades later, ice cream still feels like a ‘naughty’ food to me.
As we grow up, we are programmed by the world around us to use powerful language — ‘bad’, ‘naughty’, ‘addictive’ — to describe a range of food we eat.
As a dietitian, I know many people struggle to make peace with eating certain foods because these seemingly harmless words get transferred into a judgement on themselves — ‘I’m a bad person because I ate those biscuits’. And so they feel guilty, ashamed and remorseful. These negative feelings can then lead to overeating: ‘oh heck, I’ve done it now, I may as well finish off the whole packet!’
Thinking of any food as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ has no place in a healthy approach to eating. Yes, foods like chocolate and ice cream taste really good. Eating them should be your moment of pleasure. And it’s okay to choose to eat food purely for pleasure. Indeed, an interesting thing happens when you remove the guilt — you don’t feel the need to hastily shovel food in, or go back for seconds before your conscience catches you. You actually enjoy these foods even more, and you need them less.
To change the way you think about food, you need to change the language you use when you talk about it. Next time you make a light jest about digging into that ‘naughty’ piece of cake, try to think about it differently by focusing on the pleasure you’ll be getting from the delicious taste. Be in the moment. Think about why it’s so enjoyable — is it because it's fluffy, moist or rich? Focusing on the ‘whys’ helps you really appreciate a food’s flavour.
Having enjoyable treats from time to time is a wonderful, healthy part of living well. When you open up your vocabulary to new, positive ways of talking about the food you eat, you can begin to mend your relationship with it. It’s time to celebrate!