THE BLOG

Chocolate Lover? Ban Words Like Indulge and Treat

02/18/2014 12:12 pm ET | Updated Apr 20, 2014
  • Michelle May, M.D. Author, 'Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat' book series; Founder, Am I Hungry? Mindful Eating Programs and Training

Did you receive chocolate for Valentine's Day? Great! Now ignore all the "helpful" advice you've heard like:

  • It's okay to indulge yourself once in awhile.
  • Exercise more so you can have a treat.
  • Treat yourself every now and then.
  • Don't beat yourself up when you cheat; just start over.
  • Give in to your craving for chocolate with one small square every day.
  • Eat dark chocolate instead; it's better for you.
  • Splurge on a special occasion then get right back on track.

This seemingly permissive advice is loaded with restrictive messages. Consider the possible implications of the words used in the phrases above:

  • Indulge: spoiled, too lenient
  • Exercise more: earning, conditional
  • Treat (noun): childish prize for being good
  • Treat (verb): scarce reward
  • Cheat: sneaky, dishonest, deceptive, shameful, bad
  • Start over: this is a game, not a lifelong process
  • Give in: surrender, concede defeat, weakness
  • Better for you: justification, rationalization
  • Splurge: excessive, gluttonous
  • Back on track: eating what you love is off track and therefore bad

As a result, even though some expert gave you "permission" to eat a limited amount of a favorite food like chocolate, these subtle messages feed unconscious feelings of judgment and deprivation that may lead to paradoxical overeating. Of course, since they gave you an inch but you took a mile, you feel out of control and guilty. This reinforces your belief (and theirs) that you need to be limited or even prohibited from "indulging" in your favorite "bad" foods.

Break this vicious cycle. Stop letting external experts set artificial and arbitrary boundaries. Instead, learn to trust your internal expert to eat what you love and love what you eat.

Please leave a comment with your thoughts, other phrases or words you'd like to ban, and/or your own personal commitment to stop using these restrictive phrases in your self-talk and/or advice to others!