Our usual Weight Watchers leader, Gill, is away for the next 3 weeks, so we have guest leaders for those 3 meetings. For the first 2 we have Rosemary - I haven't got on so well with her in the past, but I'm getting to like her as time goes on. Something she said in the meeting this morning triggered something in my mind that I've been meaning to blog about for a while. In fact I may have even talked about it before, so if this is a repeat waffle, I apologise for that.
Words have power. Words have a lot of power. So many phrases and expressions, even the very shortest, have the most enormous power in and of themselves, and are even stronger when you put them into context.
"It's a girl/boy."
"I'm so sorry."
"I love you."
Some of them carry joy, some carry heartbreak, and some carry unimaginable relief. But they all have power over us of one type or another.
Weight loss is an area in which words are enormously significant and powerful when it comes to attitude and state of mind. What it was that Rosemary said this morning which struck a chord with me was that when she went back to Weight Watchers for the last time before she finally got serious and reached her goal weight, she made a personal decision to not refer to herself as being "on a diet". Historically, this phrase conjures up all kinds of negative connotations, of being deprived and hungry, of being boring in social situations, and of suffering to achieve what you want. It's not helpful. One of our members commented that she has replaced the expression "on a diet" with "on Weight Watchers", because it tends to encourage people to ask about it, rather than automatically making negative assumptions.
Another word, or pair of words, traditionally associated with weight loss and desperately unhelpful are "slimming"/"fattening". "Slimming" is used both as a verb ("I'm slimming.") and as an adjective ("That dress is very slimming."). "Fattening" is applied specifically as an adjective for food.
In my usual contrary fashion, I'll tackle the second one first, not least because it's the one that bothers me most.
I have a strong memory of a discussion around the lunch table at work one day a good few years ago in which we were discussing and comparing recipes. Lasagne came up, and I detailed my recipe for Lasagne, including the fact that I refuse point blank to buy white sauce or a packet mix, and insist on making it myself using the roux method. An older lady who had been calorie counting for many years gasped in horror. "But that's FATTENING!" She was absolutely scandalised. No amount of pointing out to her that in order to make the required amount of sauce I needed 30g of butter and 30g of flour, which amounted to a total of 7.5g of butter and 7.5g of flour per portion would make any difference.
My colleague's scandalised look and expression have stayed with me, and since that day I have never, ever used the word "fattening" to describe a foodstuff. It infuriates me when I hear it. There is no single foodstuff the consumption of which will globally result in people being fat. It is certainly the case that everybody reacts differently to different foods - an example being that I know a fair few people who have discovered that eating bread can slow down their weight loss - but no one food results globally in a state of being fat for everybody who ever eats it.
"Slimming" as a word doesn't offend me quite so much. Used as an adjective to describe clothing, it's absolutely fine. My only issue with it is that it's very old fashioned when used as a verb to describe the activity of attempting to lose weight, and hence it goes that saying "I'm slimming" tends to carry the same negative connotations as "I'm on a diet".
I'm discovering that one of the most important things in sucessfully losing weight is state of mind. Clinging on to words and phrases with historically negative connotations does not help. Far more useful is to find your own definition for what you are doing, why you are doing it and why it is important to you. Come up with an expression, an explanation which defines your weight loss efforts - your weight loss journey if you like - and which makes you feel strong, positive and confident when you think it, when you say it and when you hear it.
"I've made a positive choice to change the way I eat and the way I live, to attain and maintain a healthy weight, and to make my body strong, fit and healthy along the way. I am doing these things for me and me alone."
Trust me, it helps.