Updating my (food) Vocabulary

Steph Wagner MS, RDN

March 19, 2024

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Guest post by Cindy Jouper, Bariatric Food Coach Premier Access member

If you’re like me, you’ve been on diets for most of your adult life. We’ve developed a shared vocabulary around dieting. Years of mixed success with dieting have given these words a life of their own, and most have negative connotations. I’ve decided to ban many of these words from my vocabulary, so I’m using my strikethrough tool to eliminate them! I have updated some of these words to new, more neutral options but I have banned them altogether.

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The first word I’m banning from my vocabulary is DIET. My bariatric dietitian defines a diet as short-term, with a start and end date, and done for a specific purpose. The example she uses is the diet you follow prior to surgery. It is time-limited and for the purpose of shrinking your liver.
I often hear people refer to this as a “lifestyle change”, which is better than a diet but it feels overused. Another is “weight management”, but that places too much emphasis on the scale. I’m currently using a “health management plan”, since it takes the emphasis off of weight and is inclusive of all of the pillars (meal planning and quality, movement, water, vitamins, and sleep.)

Good Food/Bad Food

Good and bad are very loaded terms. Food is neither good nor bad, it is just food. There are food choices that are more nutritious and more supportive of your long-term goals, but no individual food eaten a single time can undo your progress.

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Can/Can’t Have Food

Over the many years of dieting, every time I would be on a diet my mother would have something at her house that wasn’t on my diet plan. She would give me this sad puppy-dog look and say, “Can you have this (cake, cookie, pie, whatever!)?” and then look like her heart was breaking for me that I had to have the willpower to say no. My response now is always, “I choose not to have that” or “I will have a small piece”, but I don’t use a can or can’t. Everything is a choice! So my replacements for both good/bad and can/can’t choose/choice. Alternative words are allowed/don’t allow. My goal every day is to make choices that support my health management plan.


I refuse to feel shame or guilt based on what I eat. Changing my mindset about this has had a profound effect. I’ve found in the past that the negative self-talk that comes from shame and guilt over eating anything that wasn’t approved on my diet would lead to spiraling out of control. It also leads to sneak eating, which never has a good result! Instead, I now own my decisions and move on. No dwelling on what I can’t change!


When you cheat on a diet, who are you cheating? You, of course! The diet doesn’t care what you do, and the diet industry certainly doesn’t care – it just means you may pay them more to lose weight. This is another word that I’m substituting the word “choose” for. Cheating implies you should be feeling shame and guilt, and we know how I feel about that!

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Tomorrow/Next Monday

How many times have you resolved to start a diet “next Monday” or after a difficult day said, “I’ll start again tomorrow.”? I have decided there is no tomorrow, there is only one long today. You may never get there if you wait until tomorrow or next Monday to start your plan. And what do we do with that extra time we give ourselves? We binge on everything we can get our hands on! I’m replacing tomorrow or next Monday with “now.” Once you have resolved to make a change, the time to start is now.

Goal Weight

This is a hard one to give up. Every diet starts with a goal weight! If you don’t know where you are going, how will you know when you get there? On the other hand, after different degrees of success on many different diets, I can tell you I never reached my goal weight. I’ve gotten within a few pounds several times, but never hit the magic number. And in all of those situations, I would question myself, not the goal. I would feel like a failure time after time. But what if the problem wasn’t me – what if the problem was that weight and BMI are not the best way to measure success and health? Now I am working to find a stable size that feels healthy and comfortable. I may use weight as one of the metrics, but I will also use pant size, mobility, and general comfort.

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Can we all just agree to ban willpower from our vocabularies forever? Willpower is probably the least effective way to manage our health. It puts us in battle mode all the time. Willpower implies that you need to deprive yourself of foods you want, so you’ve got to fight your impulses all the time.


Every diet has a “before”. We all have a starting point for each of our attempts to manage our weight. But “after” implies that you are finished with your weight loss, but in my experience this is a lifetime challenge. I’d rather think in terms of before/now. One of my pet peeves is seeing commercials for weight loss products where people giving a testimonial will tell you how much they’ve lost and end with, “And I’ve kept it off!” I always want to ask, “How long have you kept it off? What did this product do that made you develop all new habits that help you maintain your weight?”

Words have power

The words we use determine how we feel about what we are doing. By changing our vocabulary to words that are not loaded with negativity we can refresh our thinking and allow ourselves to look at health management through new eyes.

Cindy Jouper is a wonderful asset to our Premier Access Membership. Read another blog written by Cindy about why she joined us, and why she stays!

5 thoughts on “Updating my (food) Vocabulary”

  1. WOW! Cindy, you have nailed it for me!!! Thank you for sharing these thoughts on vocabulary and what they mean. (Now, if we could get the doctors and insurance companies as well as the diet industry to get it, too.)

  2. Cindy – there is so much power and meaning in the words we used and you have done a great job not only speaking that for yourself and all of us but living it. Thank you for sharing!

  3. Thank you Cindy for your words! I have noticed your participation on the site and it encourages me.

  4. Thanks, Cindy! You have verbalized exactly what is in my mind. All of this is about my choices and how I respond to them. Thanks again for putting this out there for all of us!

  5. Words really do have power! I can really see how changing the way something is said can change the way you view it. I am looking forward to implementing this in my health journey. Thank you!

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