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