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Body Image and Eating Habits: The Power of Speech

Updated: Jun 30, 2022

Working with individuals who struggle with low self-esteem and body image issues, I am often asked what we can do to prevent ourselves and our children from preoccupation with body image and the negative self-esteem that comes with it. There are many aspects to this challenge, and I hope to write a series of posts addressing one at a time. The first has to do with language.

It is important to notice and be intentional in the way we talk about bodies, food, and exercise. Do you find yourself saying things like, “I can’t believe I did that; I should never have eaten that.” “I’m so fat.” “I’m such a pig.” “I look awful.” “Or I hate the way I look.” These seemingly innocuous comments impact our perception of food and our bodies and they shape the way our children think about themselves.

I tell clients to try and refrain from talking about weight and calories, and using words like fat, skinny, hate, bad, and awful. Instead of these sorts of phrases, I encourage people to talk about food and their eating habits by using words like healthier and unhealthier. When we talk in extremes and use language that is self-loathing, even if meant only as an exaggeration, we are creating the perception that self-shaming attitudes can create better self-control. But it doesn’t, it just creates binge-purge cycles. So, instead, you might say, “I don’t like the way I feel from eating that. I think I’d feel better next time, if I ate a little less.”

This type of language shows that things are not black and white, good or bad, but rather that there is a continuum of healthier and less healthy. This is very important because one of the common features of disordered eating is black and white, all or nothing thinking.

Changing these patterns can be very difficult. You will make mistakes (I certainly do) but even small improvements can make big impacts. I encourage you to have a conversation with your family and friends about being body positive and catching each other when you make mistakes in your language.

In future posts I hope to offer more suggestions for creating healthier and more positive environments for ourselves and others. Here’s to the start of a new journey!


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