The words we use can both reflect and have an effect on our mindset. As I’ve written before, my personal bugaboo is the word “should.” When we say that we “should” do something, we are not necessarily saying that we intend to do it. We have no plan, we may not know where to start, and we may even feel a bit guilty about it. It isn’t a useful way to feel, therefore it isn’t a useful word to use.
I had an actual physical reaction to something I overheard the other day. I was sitting in a coffee shop and two people were chatting at a nearby table. One turned to the other and said, “I should go on a diet.”
As if “should” wasn’t bad enough, along comes its old friend “diet.” Now that I’ve stopped cringing, allow me to explain why we should need to stop using this word, or at least why we should may want to rethink how we use it.
“I’m on a diet.”
“I’m making changes to my diet.”
Those two statements are different in subtle but very important ways. The difference hinges on the interpretation of one little four-letter word, and just like with “should,” what we’re telling other people is far less important than what we’re saying to ourselves.
So when we talk about being on A Diet, what do we mean? A Diet is short-term or temporary. It’s a knee-jerk reaction to a number on the scale or to pulling our jeans out of the closet only to have them feel a bit snug.
It can also be a fad, meaning that it’s popular but not well-studied, and usually not based rigorous scientific evidence. This, of course, is only an issue if you actually want results, which we can assume you do if you’re committing to only eating cabbage or whatever it happens to be this month.
In other cases, its a drastic attempt to fit into a dress by a certain date, or to look better on the beach than you did last year, even though your vacation is 6 weeks away. A Diet is the equivalent of cramming for a test. Did that work in school? If it did, how much of that information was retained long-term? A better strategy is to spend time with the material, really understanding each piece of information before moving on to the next. This is what we mean when we talk about making changes to Our Diet.
Our Diet is simply what we eat. It can be recorded by keeping a food log. We can plan for it, or we can make last minute decisions. Whether we eat at home on the run, whether we’re vegetarian or omnivorous, whether we’re trying to lose weight, gain weight, or stay the same weight, whether or not we have any goal in mind at all, the food we eat and the way we eat it can be referred to by one simple label: Our Diet.
This need for clarification is so frustrating to me I can’t even tell you. I truly wish there was a different word for one or both of those things, but here we are.
“So are you just going to complain, or are you going to offer a suggestion?”
As the old saying goes, “the best way to cure a headache is to cut off the head.” I think that’s the saying, anyway. The point is that we never need to clarify to each other or to ourselves what we mean by the word “diet” if we only use it to mean Our Diet. Taken a step further, we never need to talk about A Diet at all if we never go on A Diet again. Diets suck anyway, right? They don’t work, at least not in the long run, and they end up costing money, time, and effort that would be better spent on just about anything else.
If you’re going to make the commitment to make changes to Your Diet, understand exactly what that means: sustainable, permanent, positive changes that move you closer to being the healthiest you you can be. If you find yourself saying and meaning the other thing, take a step back, reevaluate, and make a new plan.
This is my second post about the meaning of words and using words to get ourselves into the right headspace, but I feel like I can’t stress it enough. There’s another one that I often hear besides “should” and “diet,” so rather than subjecting you another example in the future, I’ll do it right now.
Instead of saying “I have to go for a run,” say “I get to go for a run!”
I thought this was crazy when I first heard it, but think about it; you get to go for a run? That’s awesome! You get to spend an hour listening to music, challenging your body, and increasing your cardiovascular health. If you REALLY hate it, if it really isn’t for you, then don’t go. Find something else that works for you and never run again. If you’re just complaining, consider the idea that you get to go, and get going.
Of course, this doesn’t just apply to running. You or someone you know has said this about lifting weights, swimming, going to a spin class or bootcamp, going for a walk, doing physiotherapy exercises, even doing meal prep or keeping a food journal. If you stop thinking of these things as chores you’ll be less likely to skip them, which means you’ll be more likely to get the results you want.
If you’re having a hard time thinking of why you “get” to do something, I’ve got you covered: There are things in your life that you want to change, and you get to take control of them and change them. You have challenges and limitations, but you get to determine what they are and what you can do to overcome them. You get to start small, you get to work at your own pace, and you get to do something good for yourself.
Talk to yourself the right way, get yourself into the right mindset, and see what a difference it makes. That’s the hard part. Once you have that figured out, all you have to do is get to work.
Ryan Casselman is a personal trainer, musician, and the founder of Real Trainers. Stay tuned as he finds out what he's going to write about each week or so!