‘Cheats’ and ‘Treats’

The Connection Between Language and Your Relationship with Food

Language is tremendously powerful, and so is the language we use around food.

The power of words

I have found language to be a fairly accurate predictor of one’s success in achieving short term behavior change or long term habit change success.

The language used to describe food, one’s experience with food, and even oneself can often make or break one’s long term success in establishing healthier, more vibrant life-enhancing habits.

Two common and seemingly innocent words in diet/nutrition lingo, which carry great impact include “cheat” and “treat”.


With respect to dieting or nutrition improvements, have you ever said anything like;

  • I was so good today, I didn’t cheat at all!
  • I did pretty good this week. I only cheated a little bit.
  • I was strict all week, but took a cheat meal over the weekend.
  • Ugh, I cheated so much, I may as well quit. I’m awful.

These kinds of comments are so normal in the diet/food world, and none aside from the last one seem too harmful. But imagine them in a different context – like school. Or business. Or your relationship.

As you read them again from these different contexts, do you notice that even the “harmless” ones aren’t so harmless after all?

The thing with cheating, is that it carries a negative connotation and a very low emotional frequency.

We don’t like being up against cheaters in school; we don’t like being cheated out of a fair deal in business; and we certainly don’t like being cheated on by our loved one.

Regardless of how innocent the comment seems on the surface, the word “cheat” and “cheater” carries an energetic weight that we subconsciously don’t respond well to.

Additionally, it makes us cheaters against ourselves – our vision, our word and our bodies. All of this lowers our energy and also fosters GUILT.

My recommendation: for your greatest success don’t make yourself into a cheater. Eliminate the word from your nutritional vocab. Barring any food sensitivities or allergies, all food can have a place in your healthy and vibrant diet plan.

  • Toss out your rule-book of food “can’ts” and instead establish loving guidelines of nourishing food habits, that can include occasional indulgences.
  • Although this won’t stop you from occasionally making a poor choice and feeling genuine remorse for it, in this way, you’ll never “cheat” again, and will be one step closer to a healthier relationship with food.


‘Treats’ is another seemingly harmless word that most of us, if not all of us, have used at some point or other. And essentially it is harmless, but it can hold people back when it comes to nutrition goals.

The concept of food being a “treat” comes from a reward-based attitude which often begins in childhood:

  • Parent to child: You were so good, you can pick a treat. (Positive reinforcement) OR
  • Parent to child: You didn’t listen to me, so no treat for you! (Negative reinforcement)

And we carry that food-based reward conditioning into adult life where we use food to celebrate, and treat ourselves for being good, or for making ourselves feel better when we’re down.


  • I got a promotion! Let’s go for dinner – I deserve it. I earned it.
  • I had such a bad day, I need a treat.

The back-fire can be two-fold:

1- When we use food as a reward, we give our power away.

Treats become items we either have to earn or deserve; or which we use to make ourselves feel better with.

  • In the latter example of a bad day, meeting an emotional need with a physical substance usually only provides an immediate distraction with short term pleasure – often resulting in feeling worse.  This of course is NOT a treat. 

I am not saying, don’t ever indulge or celebrate with food. What I am saying is when food is not linked to “treats” which you need to earn or deserve, then you are free to enjoy a food occasion anytime simply because you want to and you can, and not because you had to earn it first.

2- When we define “treat” as an indulgent food that we aren’t normally “allowed” to have, we often align something with the capacity to make us feel quite poorly with the concept of a “reward”.  And especially when feeling ill, self-judgement, blame and criticism creep in later, it really isn’t a treat after all.

Additionally this definition also causes us to neglect viewing nourishing foods that support our vitality, no matter how delicious, as “treats”. As such, we can often feel deprived on healthy diet plans, even surrounded by delicious food options.

Can you see the backfire in this?

My recommendation: Check in with your definition of “treat” and how you use them. If it feels restrictive, or not as supportive or liberating as you’d like, consider redefining “treat” to align with your deeper why and greater vision.

  • For example, when the treat is more in lines with your deeper why (like feeling radiant), rather than an indulgent food (like a cupcake or piece of pizza), you will feel so much more empowered and confident in achieving your vision, you’ll likely feel great choosing more nourishing choices, you’ll still enjoy your occasional indulgence, AND you’ll be less likely to feel deprived along the way.

Changing one’s language and redefining it isn’t always easy. As with any new habit it takes practice, patience and consistency. If it sounds of interest, give it a go and see how it feels.  

And as always, I’d love to hear from you – what are your thoughts on this topic? What power have you noticed words having for you in establishing diet/nutrition habit change? What words have you had to redefine for your greater success?