Changing your words could help you change your life.
They say actions speak louder than words. But if you listen closely to the words of healthy people, you’ll see that the things they say might actually be a little different than everyone else. We spoke to experts in different fields—nutrition, fitness, sleep, cardiology, and more—and asked them: What things do healthy people avoid saying? Their answers may prompt you watch your words more closely and, more importantly, change your mindset about healthy living.
“I Earned This Cheeseburger.”
“Healthy people understand that their favorite chocolate cupcake is not earned at the gym,” says Rebecca Scritchfield, R.D.N., author of Body Kindness. “Look at food as the gasoline for your body, fueling your muscles to do the exercise and activities you enjoy.” With that mindset, when you face a cupcake, consider, How would I feel if I ate too many? That should help to motivate you to savor just one. And expand your definition of what a “treat” is. “A treat isn't a reward, it's a food you enjoy—and that could be mac and cheese or a really good salad,” Scritchfield says. Sit down when you're eating something you like—really enjoy it, and appreciate every bit and the people you're with.
“Just This One Time.”
When you set a goal, you intend to stick with it, right? “But if you decide you will never eat donuts again, and then say ‘Maybe I’ll have one just this one time…’, you are not only breaking your own rule but also increasing the chances that you will do so again,” says Cleveland Clinic staff cardiologist Haitham Ahmed, M.D., M.P.H. “This affects your control and confidence in your own plan, and before you know it, your whole plan unravels and you are no longer practicing the behaviors that you had intended to.” If you find yourself struggling to stick to your goals, they’re probably too strict, Ahmed adds. So rather than making a goal to exercise every single day (and setting yourself up for failure), make a goal to exercise 30 minutes at least four days a week. Or instead of vowing to banish chocolate altogether, make a goal to choose fruit instead of chocolate or another dessert at least four days a week. “You are much more likely to adhere to a goal like this,” he says.
“I Can Catch Up on Sleep Later.”
“Sleep is not like money—you don't borrow from yourself to just pay it back later,” explains Michael A. Grandner, Ph.D., director of the Sleep and Health Research Program at the University of Arizona College of Medicine. And that's actually a good thing, because you don't need to repay yourself for hours lost. However, it also means that every night is important. “If you want to keep your body working well, you need to get enough sleep, every night,” Grandner says. And the research consistently backs this up: adequate sleep can help with a healthy weight, heart, brain, and may even help to prevent diseases like diabetes.
But how to actually make it happen? Step one: aim to get plenty of light during the day. “Our internal clocks keep all of our biological rhythms in order and in sync. But since these systems are imperfect, we are constantly using light to synchronize our clocks,” Grandner says. “If we don't get a strong daytime signal of bright light, then we don't have as strong of a nighttime signal and our body has a hard time knowing when to get ready for sleep.” So get outside for at least 30 minutes daily, ideally in the morning. Then power down your devices at least an hour before bedtime. Otherwise the blue light from your phone or laptop will send a “daytime” signal to your brain and make it harder to fall asleep.
Forget about the juice cleanses and lemon water. “Our body naturally detoxes itself daily. It is our liver’s job to prevent toxic substances that may be in our food from entering our blood flow,” says Keri Gans, RDN, author of The Small Change Diet. The only reason people who “detox” claim they feel better after is because “they removed the crap they were eating from their diet,” Gans says. “If they were eating well to begin with, this would be a moot point.” To help your body naturally detox efficiently, she recommends eating foods high in fiber (such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains) to keep your intestinal tract running smoothly, and drinking plenty of water.
“I’ll Be Happy When I Lose X Pounds.”
Happiness and self-worth isn't something that happens magically when you hit some random number on the scale, Scritchfield says. Instead of setting weight-loss goals, focus on choices and habits, she recommends. For example, if you aren't consistently eating vegetables, you can write them at the top of your grocery list, pack some crudites into sandwich baggies to take to work, or roast a pan of vegetables on the weekend so you have them ready for busy weeknight meals. “Any one of those choices are an action that can lead to a habit,” Scritchfield says. So keep doing any or all of them until it's natural for you. Plus the more choices you make to feel strong and energized, the more confident you'll feel about reaching your big-picture goals.
“I Don’t Have Time for Exercise.”
“There is always time for exercise,” says Gary Deng, M.D., Ph.D., medical director of Integrative Medicine Service at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. He recommends thinking about it this way: Thirty minutes is just about 2 percent of your day. Take a careful audit of how you spend your time. “We can all find something that is inconsequential to free up that 2 percent of our days, and walk 30 minutes,” he says. So rather than watching a sitcom you don't care that much about, falling down the rabbit hole of social media, or calling a friend to gossip, do a 30-minute workout instead. You don't even need to hit the gym—bodyweight moves like squats, pushups, and lunges can be done anywhere. If you absolutely can't fit in a half hour, try at least 10 minutes three times a day. “For shorter bursts of exercise, higher intensity is better. You want to get your heart rate very high,” Deng says. And ultimately, any amount of exercise is beneficial, he adds.
“I’ll Start Again on Monday.”
We’ve all been there: You get through an entire week of healthy eating and going to Spin class, and then the weekend comes, along with boozy brunch and dinner out and kids' soccer games...and you go completely off your eating and exercise plan. You tell yourself you’ll start over on Monday. It’s time to stop thinking like that. “Monday can easily come around and be a stressful day at work, and you don’t make it to the gym,” says Amanda Butler, fitness instructor at The Fhitting Room, a boutique fitness studio in New York City. “Also, we shouldn’t be throwing in the towel and giving up on ourselves. Each meal or snack is a new opportunity to make an empowered—and better—choice.” Aim to find balance in your life—balance that includes the occasional conscious indulgence, Butler says, which will help you avoid letting things get out of control.
“Eat Everything in Moderation.”
That’s right; this super common advice may not be so wise after all. In a 2015 study published in PLOS One, researchers examined the diets of more than 5,000 adults. They found that people who ate the most diverse diets also ate more unhealthy foods such as soda, ice cream, and desserts, and their waist circumference was more likely to expand over five years. “That’s not to say that you can’t try new things—nutrient diversity rules!” Lugavere says. “But don’t allow everything in moderation to be an excuse to eat junk food, and particularly sugar and processed foods.” It’s totally OK if your meals tend to be full of things like non-starchy veggies, wild fish, and grass-fed beef.
“My Doctor Will Fix Me.”
“Even when you replace the broken parts of a car that has gone through a serious accident, it will not run as smoothly as it did with the original parts,” Deng says. Your body is the same way. And it’s your responsibility to avoid those figurative “car accidents.” “We are the primary person to take care of our health,” Deng says. “And it’s always best to be proactive in preventing illnesses.” That means doing the things we’ve all heard over and over: Eat a healthy diet, exercise, don’t smoke, manage stress, and get enough sleep.
“I’m on a Diet.”
Regular dieters are more than twice as likely to become overweight or obese, according to a 2012 study of twins. “Diets lead to obsessing over our bodies, depriving ourselves, and turning exercise into a chore,” Scritchfield says. So instead of dieting and cutting out foods, focus on establishing healthy habits that will lead to achieving your goals and think about what healthy things you can add in, she recommends. For example, plan your meals by starting with foods you like, and then adding in other foods to create a balanced meal. “Visualize your plate,” Scritchfield says. “If there aren't any veggies, how can you add them? If you make quesadilla, you could eat a side of carrots or pepper strips and guacamole. Pizza or pasta nights go great with a side salad or fresh cut tomatoes with olive oil and basil.” Or if you're thinking about never again having anything with sugar, instead “pick the most delicious favorites and decide in advance where and when you want to eat desserts,” Scritchfield says. “Most people don't really want to overeat sweets at 3 p.m. on a work deadline.” So rather than diving into the candy bowl then, say you'll have a sliver of cheesecake for dessert. When the time comes, if you want it, have it. If not, skip it.
“This Causes Cancer, That Causes Cancer—Looks Like There is Nothing Left for Me to Eat!”
There’s probably enough stress in your life—don’t add stressing over what you eat. “The constant fear and worry about not being perfect with your diet—and the stress and sense of insecurity associated with it—hurt you more than anything in those foods,” Deng says. “Stick with the healthy eating principles and let the little things go. The effect of diet on our body is long-term and cumulative. An occasional snack is OK and won’t hurt us.”