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Please Stop Using These 16 Words To Describe Bodies, Diets, And Food

Some of these are offensive or just plain wrong, or cause people to think not-so-great things about their bodies.

Given what our society tends to value, it’s pretty typical to have some anxiety or self-consciousness about your body.

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But some words used to describe bodies or ways of eating have stopped being cute, useful, or funny. They sneak into our subconscious and make us see ourselves as a collection of body parts, rather than whole, unique people who are so, so much more than that.

They can make food — a source of enjoyment for so many of us! — seem “bad” or cause mental anguish. And others can be just plain misleading and wrong in terms of scientific facts.

We asked Cynthia Sass, RD, a nutrition and health expert based in NY and LA; Keri Gans, RDN, a NY-based nutrition consultant; and Vandana Sheth, RDN, an Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics spokesperson with a private practice in LA, about certain words related to bodies, foods, weight loss, and diets.

And they had a lot to say.

“I truly believe that using terms that compartmentalize our body types, distinguish food as good or bad, are not helpful,” says Sheth. “In fact, they may be harmful as they affect our psyche.”

So here are a few words to think about retiring in 2018.

1. Cheat Day

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Tbh, the word “cheat” is best used to describe people who are sneaking around behind their partner’s back, stealing, or doing other bad things to get ahead — as opposed to anything related to food. Food is good. You need to eat it to survive. There shouldn’t be certain days when certain foods are acceptable, which we then label with a negative word.

“I really dislike this term,” says Sheth. “Identifying foods to be enjoyed only on ‘cheat’ days seems to box them into a forbidden and bad category when, in fact, all foods can fit a healthy way of eating.”

When she works with clients, she emphasizes the 80/20 rule, which means you should aim to eat wholesome foods 80% of the time. For the remaining 20% you don’t really think too much about your food intake at all: You just eat what tastes good.

“I find this to be more realistic and sustainable rather than restricting your food choices all week to go overboard on one ‘cheat’ day of the week,” says Sheth.

2. Guilt-Free Food

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“All food should be guilt-free,” says Sheth. “Making conscious decisions about foods that taste good and are good for us can be a good way to fuel our body. However, specifically identifying a food as guilt-free just because it’s free of gluten/sugar/fat/carbs or whatever else is the villain of the moment is not helpful.”

3. Flat Belly

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“Most people, especially women, are never going to have a flat belly, and that’s OK. We shouldn’t be striving for a flat belly — we should be striving to eat healthy foods to put in our belly,” says Gans. “Flat bellies, I think, promote an idea of how our body should be that is not obtainable for the average person.”

4. Diet

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Ideally you should use this word to describe something you need to do for your health — say, a gluten-free diet if you have celiac disease. But in terms of weight loss, it’s become synonymous with doing extreme or unhealthy things to reach an unrealistic body ideal that’s often more about normative expectations around beauty than about health.

“I think the worst of all is ‘diet’ because it implies a temporary and often extreme approach that’s about deprivation and under-nourishing your body,” says Sass. “I think it’s great to have a strategy, but it should optimize your mental and physical health and be sustainable long-term.”

5. Muffin Top

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Can we all agree that the original definition of muffin top is the best one? That is, the top of a delicious muffin — the best part! — rather than a bit of extra skin that spills out over the top of your pants.

“It seems to me like your pants are too small and doesn’t even mean you are overweight,” says Gans. “Muffin should only be described as a food item that we either choose or choose not to eat. I don’t think muffin should be used to describe body parts.”

6. Detox/Cleanse

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We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: There is no need to ever do a detox or cleanse (or at least the ones that require dramatically cutting back on food and drinking a bunch of pricey juices).

“Our body has organs such as the kidneys and liver that naturally take care of getting rid of toxins on their own,” says Sheth. “We do not need to follow a detox diet or fall for a detox/cleanse product! Enjoying a wide variety of fruits, veggies, whole grains, lean protein, and heart-healthy fats allows our body to naturally do what it needs to do to keep us healthy.”

If you still feel it necessary to do a cleanse, here are 22 cleanses to rid your life of emotional and physical garbage. Or check out Here’s How To Actually Detox After Eating All The Things.

7. Love Handles

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Similar to muffin top, love handles are a bit of extra weight around the midsection. And for goodness sake, just leave them alone.

“We should have a little fat on our bodies,” says Gans. “If you think you shouldn’t have love handles you would probably be malnourished.”

8. Fat-Burning

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This one is pretty misleading, says Sheth. Although some foods might boost your metabolism a little bit, you are not going to burn off pockets of fat on your body. “As if certain foods can literally melt fat from our bodies,” says Sheth. “Not true.”

“Certain foods like spices, very hot foods, can be fat-burning, but can it speed up your metabolism? Perhaps. So maybe there is a little science out there that supports food that can speed up your metabolism,” says Gans. “But actually zero in on fat in your body? Nothing can target that. It doesn’t work that way.”

9. Low-Carb

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Repeat after us: Carbs are good. For lots of people, carbs make up most of the calories in their (totally healthy and OK) diets. Too often, people say they are “cutting out carbs,” but don’t even realize that some of the most nutritious foods in the world are technically carbs.

“Fruit is a carbohydrate, so is a vegetable. So a lot of people are promoting a style of eating that is not honest,” says Gans. “They’ll say they lost weight because they avoided carbs, but they didn’t really avoid carbs.”

As we’ve said before, there are no such things as “bad” foods. When it comes to carbs, it’s better to choose whole, minimally processed foods that contain fiber, such as fruit, whole grains, legumes, and veggies, rather than highly refined or processed foods like white bread, candy, or sugary drinks. To learn more, check out How Much Do You Actually Know About Carbs?

10. Moobs

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Yikes. Just stop it already. This is shorthand for man boobs and, well, just don’t.

“Again, that would be considered fat-shaming,” says Gans. “We shouldn’t be – and this includes men – talking about other people’s body parts. We should not be negatively referring to anyone else’s body parts in a negative way.” And what’s more, it’s important to keep gender diversity in mind; there’s no one gender that should have boobs and another that shouldn’t!

11. Bat Wings

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This term is used to describe the loose skin that hangs down on the back of the upper arm, which can get more pronounced with age. But it’s skin, folks, not an actual wing. (We wish.) So let’s retire this one and return it to the small, insect-eating mammals that need wings for actual flying.

“If you have nothing positive to say, then just don’t say it,” says Gans. “This has nothing to do with eating. It’s part of the aging process — this is what happens.”

12. Thigh Gap

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Don’t get us started on this one. This loaded term was more of a thing a few years back, and is used to describe what may or may not appear when people put their legs together. You may see a space where the thighs don’t touch — the thigh gap — or you may not.

Hopefully this is the last time you will read this phrase because it’s one that sets unrealistic standards for bodies in general.

“Everyone is built differently and having a thigh gap or non–thigh gap doesn’t necessarily tell us how strong you are, how physically fit you are, whether or not you can run up a flight of stairs,” says Gans. “It doesn’t really tell us anything about an individual’s health.”

13. Willpower

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It’s REALLY time to let this one go. The body is a sneaky little organism with multiple, overlapping biological systems that get jump-started any time you attempt to lose weight.

Leptin, ghrelin, and who knows how many other yet-to-be-discovered hormones carefully control hunger and satiety. And your metabolism can grind to a halt and make it incredibly difficult to maintain weight loss, if you do achieve that elusive goal. In short, starving yourself seems to make your body mad and it’s going to fight for every bit of energy it’s ever stored. The body doesn’t give a damn about your “willpower.”

“Human beings are complex and there are very good reasons why simply trying to will yourself to do or not do something backfires,” says Sass. “I think it’s far healthier to examine your relationship with food and your body, to better understand the whys behind your choices. When you know that, you can work on finding an alternative path that feels right rather than forced.”

14. Beach Body

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Feel free to continue to use this one, as long as you’re talking about taking the body you have to the beach.

“We should be able to go on the beach in however we feel comfortable,” says Gans. “I’m not even sure what ‘beach body’ means. I mean I know it means to get a body ready for the beach, but to me it does not send a positive message.”

Here are 17 People Who Really Understand Your “Beach Body” Struggles.

15. Bikini Body

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Like beach body, this one can be used when talking about any body wearing a bikini — not a specific kind of body.

“It makes no sense,” says Gans. “It’s like saying you should only feel good about yourself if you put on a bikini, and it shouldn’t be about what you wear, but about how you feel.”

Here are 37 Totally Perfect Bikini Bodies if you need some examples. And maybe check out 10 Important Reminders For Bikini Season From Someone Who Dreads It.

16. Cankles

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We think ankles are fine at any size, thank you.

Words you maybe SHOULD start using:

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Here are a few phrases you might want to consider using more often.

* Intuitive eating

* Mindful eating

* Body kindness

“These are terms/phrases that I would like people to start using more often,” says Sheth. “The goal is really to enjoy and savor food. Allow our body’s natural hunger and satisfaction cues to kick in rather than using external cues to help guide our food decisions.”

Tell us in the comments if you’d like to see certain diet, weight-loss, or body terms go away in 2018.

Dump Week is a series of posts that will help you take out the trash in every aspect of your life, making room for all the good stuff you deserve. See more posts here.

Jenny Chang / BuzzFeed