Vocabulary lesson: We are CHOOSERS, not CHEATERS when it comes to food

photo: crystaspins.com

This is a guest blog post by Sheah Rarback, RD and originally appeared here.

On my last birthday, a number of Facebook greetings included the comment, “Go ahead and cheat — it’s your birthday.”

I know what these well wishers meant, but this sentiment has no meaning for me. A cheater is a person who behaves dishonestly. Enjoying a piece of cake or a scoop of ice cream is not a character statement. I can eat anything I want without being a devious person.

In the interest of full disclosure, I should add that I sometimes feel like I have shortchanged myself in terms of food, but those are the days when I “chose” not to eat enough vegetables. This doesn’t make me a bad person, just not as green as I would like to be.

Every day I meet people who feel shame or are chastised by well-meaning family and friends for what they eat. This compounds the negative feelings of “cheating” on a diet. It is time for a shift in language and attitude. A first step is to change “cheat” to “choose.”

You can be a “chooser” no matter what type of food path you follow. A vegetarian seduced by stone crabs or a paleo following the scent of fresh-baked bread might choose to eat something off their usual menu. This is a choice without a value judgment. Dieters who are following strict and unrealistic guidelines might be choosing foods they normally wouldn’t because they are hungry and feel deprived.

There are tools to help you become a chooser instead of thinking of yourself as a cheater. Linda Bacon, author of Health at Every Size (BenBella Books, 2010), suggests eating in a flexible manner that values pleasure and honors internal cues of hunger, satiety and appetite. Her website supports this philosophy with concrete steps and resources to stop fighting with food.

Food is nourishment and pleasure, weight is a number, and neither defines your worth as a person.

Sheah Rarback is a registered dietitian and on the faculty of the University of Miami Leonard M. Miller School of Medicine. Follow her on Twitter @sheahrarback.

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  • Christina Bauer

    YES. OMG YES. I love this. People have come to learn that I’m (mostly) vegetarian, and when they see me eating sushi, or enjoying a bratwurst, they yell at me for deviating from my diet! But oh how wrong they are. I CHOOSE those foods. And I do so happily. That’s the only way I can live well. To make a conscious decision to eat the foods I do, whether that’s a salad or a piece of cake.

    • Amanda Cuttell Dagney

      I’m the same way. I’m 99% vegetarian, but every now and then a turkey wrap calls my name and I have to have one.

      • Christina Bauer

        And there is NOTHING wrong with that! It’s actually more empowering to know we’re making decisions, rather than living with restrictions.

  • http://www.myheartsisters.org/ Carolyn Thomas

    Thank you for this! Many years ago, I lost over 30 pounds of post-pregnancy weight gain via the Weight Watchers program, which identified certain foods at that time as “illegal” (e.g. peanut butter). ILLEGAL! What a twisted way of looking at food. Their program has, happily, done away with such judgmental labels, but many of us continue to say things like “I was so bad last night at the birthday party” simply because we had a piece of cake.

    Kate at “This Is Not a Diet” wrote a similarly fantastic post recently called “The Courteous Healthy Eater” – http://thisisnotadiet-itsmylife.com/2013/09/14/the-courteous-healthy-eater/