positive self talk

What if we stopped talking about food as good or bad?

A few weeks ago, Sheila and I were out to dinner.

One of my favorite things is to try new restaurants and new atmospheres. I can’t really cook all that well, but I’ve become a bit of a foodie and Maine has no shortage of great restaurants to try.

On this particular night we found a good spot in Falmouth and settled in for our meals, when I ordered a Cobb salad.

I’m trying to be good, I’d said to Sheila, who hadn’t asked.

We continued on with our meal, and enjoyed a nice conversation before strolling out to the car, walking slowly and enjoying the warm summer night., We got into the car and before she started the engine, she stopped for a minute and looked at me.

This image by my friend and wild life photographer Joe Chandler doesn’t have anything to do with food - but it’s awfully adorable.

This image by my friend and wild life photographer Joe Chandler doesn’t have anything to do with food - but it’s awfully adorable.

“You know, when you say that you’re trying to be good with your food, it makes me feel like my choices are bad.”

Ohhhhhh suh-nap.

Upon reflection, I realized that I was doing this all of the time. How many of us have this same dichotomous view of food? Broccoli is good, pasta is bad. Grilled chicken is good, ice cream is bad. It’s a great way to make you and the people around you feel awful.

I try so hard to pay attention to language. I try to remind clients every day to not minimize their achievements.

I only did three sets.

No, you did three sets.

It’s just one pushup.

No, it’s one pushup.

The thing about food though, is that I don’t think half of us pay attention to the way we talk about it. It’s not just saying that food is good or bad – I’ve also caught myself saying– upon eating a bowl of ice cream or chocolate snack at work, “good thing I worked out today.”

Or, “I’m going to need to workout now that I’ve eaten this.”

No.

We don’t need to earn our food, and we don’t need to punish ourselves for the food we do eat. We also don’t need to talk about our food in a way that shames other people.

I had a conversation with a client last week who was out to breakfast with her friends. One of those friends was on a diet and the way she talked about her food and what she was going to order affected everyone else at the table.

She didn’t just turn down the toast with her eggs – she turned down the toast and offered the commentary that toast had so many carbs.

“It’s a restaurant you go to once a summer,” the client said. “And I was absolutely ordering the stuffed French toast - I’d been looking forward to it. But her commentary affected everyone else at the table and made the whole experience less enjoyable.”

We don’t know what someone else’s struggles are. We don’t know what someone else’s situation is. But when we make unsolicited commentary on everything we eat, it can have unintended results.

Ever since Sheila’s comment to me about “being good,” I’ve caught myself saying that phrase a hundred times. And each time now, I remind myself that my language matters.

Language always matters.

The power of a mantra during your workouts

It was 1986 and our gym teacher Mr. Stock, with his polyester track pants and polo shirt marched us from the elementary school, down the hill to the high school track. 

He announced that Ronald Reagan was personally interested in how long it would take each of us to run four laps around the track. As it turned out, President Reagan cared deeply about how many sit-ups I could do, whether or not I could climb a rope, and how far I could climb up the ladder in the gym before I became paralyzed with fear. (Not very far as it turns out.)

Sometimes it's good to mix humor in with your mantra. 

Sometimes it's good to mix humor in with your mantra. 

A kid named Danny Beyer ran those four laps in six minutes while the rest of us alternated between walking, jogging, holding the stitch in our sides, and sobbing in the middle of the track. 

I don’t remember exactly what my eight-year old self-talk was - but I imagine it was some version of: this sucks this sucks this sucks this sucks and why the hell does President Reagan care how fast I can run when we’ve never met? 

A few years later when I took up cross country, somewhat willingly, and had learned the full spectrum of swear words on the school bus, it was a much different soundtrack playing in my mind, but the tune was similar.

What the hell was I thinking? Why did I sign up for this? It’s hot. My side hurts. Running is stupid. This sucks. Math class sucks too. Everything sucks. 

The voice in our heads is very convincing, and I don’t know about you, but it's rarely Morgan Freeman offering words of wisdom. My inner voice favors sarcasm, and I often find myself spouting off comments like “I want to put my face in a blender” or “I’ll be rocking back in forth in the corner if you need me.”

For some of us, it's not sarcasm. It's flat out cruelty. We talk to ourselves in ways we would never talk to another person.

"I can't do this. I'm so weak. Why didn't I train harder? I can't do that hill."

My negative inner voice is one of the reasons I've turned to mantras. 

Not only during my long runs but on days when my thoughts are racing a million miles an hour and I need to jam a stick in the wheel to make them stop, mantras have helped.

Lately, I've used “mind like water, body like a mountain” during my days. When you drop a stone in still water, it ripples for a few seconds, and then the water settles again. A mind like water absorbs whatever is happening externally and then settles back into the present. I struggle to let things go and stay present, and this mantra is my reminder.  

On my longer runs when I have plenty of time to ruminate I’ve settled on the phrase, I am strong, I am capable. It's easy to get lost in the discomfort of running or training, and this phrase helps me remember where I came from.

I pass this along to a client who was training for a long bike ride, and she created her own mantra. "I am strong, I am capable, and I am f---ing pretty." Because humor helps too.  

One of my favorite phrases came from a book I read years ago called Running Within - where the writer suggested the mantra of “health is me, I’m injury free” when you’re on a run and a nagging pain starts creeping up on you. 

It sounds a little hokey, but when you've got an injury, it's difficult to focus on anything else. This little phrase can help shift your attention away from the pain. 

It can be so easy to let our minds wander and focus on the suffering - and for many of us - exercise can feel like a form of necessary suffering. It’s something we know will make us feel better afterward, but for many, the actual process of training isn't always pleasant.

Finding a phrase that you can return to when you are having an especially trying day or difficult workout can be helpful in putting your mind and thoughts in a better place throughout the workout.

Remember that you are good.

You are deserving of love and kindness and compassion.