We have all said those four words at some point. To the co-worker who brings in homemade brownies every Friday, to a family member offering a wedge of cake, and perhaps most often to ourselves as we try to suppress any deep desire to stop by our favorite pizza place on the way home at night. Whether you’re trying to lose 20 lbs, 100 lbs, or just trying to focus a little more on eating for health rather than pure pleasure, I’m sure you’ve experienced a moment or two where those words came begrudgingly to mind.
Of course there are circumstances where you may indeed not be able to eat something- food allergies, an intolerance, ethics, to name a few- but in this discussion I’m referring to instances where you do indeed have a choice as to whether or not you eat a particular food or food group. Specifically, I’m referring to those times when your mind and body may be at odds when it comes to the appeal of cake. Let’s say cake is tempting at all of the many gatherings we attend, but we have goals to lose weight or reduce our sugar intake- what, then, are we to do?
Instead of saying “I can’t eat that,” researchers are suggesting we consider something bolder, something like, “I don’t eat that.” I’d modify this statement to be something more specific, more defined. I’d choose, “I don’t want to eat that [right now],” because I appreciate the declarations of choice and desire, rather than the implication of restriction. I can barely bring myself to consider crossing any foods off of my list of things to eat, so I certainly wouldn’t go about making blanket assertions that I don’t eat cake at all. Instead of framing decisions around food controlling your actions, it allows me to be the one in control. Take the power away from the food. Give yourself the power of choice. Keep in mind the reasons why or why not you may choose to eat.
Beyond helping psychologically, I think this kind of change in phrasing can also help when dealing with unwanted offers of food from other people. We have all been in an awkward situation where we turn down some cake and then get interrogated and shamed (but it’s Susie’s birthday!). When you say “I can’t eat cake” the person offering will probably continue pushing a slice your way; they’ll likely attempt to reassure you it’s more than ok to eat cake. And it is more than ok to eat cake, it’s just…sometimes we might find ourselves not wanting to compromise our goals simply for the sake of frosting. Perhaps if we said something more empowered, something that implies we’re making a conscious choice, something like, “Thanks, but I don’t want any cake right now,” we’d feel stronger, we’d be met with less resistance. And [hopefully] it is honest, after all.
This is one of those little tips that pops up in diet literature and magazines from time to time, and it seems to be often dismissed as insignificant. Still, I’ve found it helpful in my dealings with others and I feel it empowers the decisions I make on my own. So next time you find yourself thinking “I can’t eat that” try to reframe your thought process and empower yourself by saying “I don’t want to eat that.”
Feel free to share any little helpful “mind tricks” like this in the comments.