The Best Diet You've Never Tried

Love, Self

Words are like food: they can nourish us or be toxic.

Words can communicate our love for other people or be poison. The words in your diet can have a profound impact on your health, happiness, relationships and self-image, just as the donut you devour or the kale you cook can affect your body, mind and spirit.

In particular, here's a word that may be causing you some serious harm: deserve. Deserve, at first glance, seems innocent enough; it conveys an image of hard work. But there are two ways that "deserve" can harm more than it helps.

  1. "I Deserve" = "I'm Entitled:" When we tell ourselves we deserve something, we equate getting that thing with being rewarded. This seems positive, but it can lead us to engage in some habits that actually undermine our well-being; binging on food, drinking and spending are some examples. When we feel we're entitled to things, we stop critically thinking about whether we need them or if they are good for us.
  2. "I Deserve" = "I Should Be Punished:" When we tell ourselves someone "deserves" a consequence, we jude and blame them. Deserve here becomes a word that assigns responsibility for repercussions where none might be due, as though folks are "asking for it." It is a way to create a moralized situation where "justice is served," when in truth things might not be that cut and dry. And when we say this about ourselves, “deserve" becomes a sharp tool that can seriously hurt our self esteem.

Sound familiar? Not to worry. There's a simple way to work on weaning yourself  off of "deserving" to cleanse your system of its side effects: say what you're really saying. Whatever you're using "deserve" to signify, try saying that instead. You might be shocked by what you learn about what you're really saying to yourself.

Like someone looking to almond flour in the face of gluten intolerance, you might find you need some substitutions once you realize you're allergic to "deserve;" here are a few suggestions to keep you full and satisfied:

  • Want
  • Am/ Am not worth
  • Should be punished for/by

Let's see how it works:

  • "I work really hard, so I deserve to spend some money on clothes" vs. "I work really hard, so I want to spend some money on clothes."
  • "I don't deserve you" vs. "I am not worth you."
  • "I know she's mad at me, and I deserve it."vs. "I know she's mad at me, and I should be punished for it."

In some situations, it becomes clear that we feel tired, frustrated or unappreciated. Those feelings are important to recognize, but can be covered up by indulging in things that seemingly reward us but leave us feeling empty once the sugar high has flatlined. By clearly expressing what we want, we give ourselves the choices of working through the feeling, and saying "yes" or "no" to a desire. In other moments, it becomes clear that we are harshly punishing or devaluing ourselves or others. In both cases, using different words lets us get right to the feeling at the heart of what we say to ourselves, which opens up choices that "deserve" might blind us to.

What would change if you tried going on a "deserve cleanse" for a week? If you removed this word from your diet, what might shift for you? When you put another word in "deserve's" place, does the sentence still ring true for you? If not, why not — what secret weapon was "deserve" concealing that you can now see?


So give it a shot. Try detoxing for a week from the word "deserve" and see whether you notice patterns around what you were telling yourself. It can be one of the best diets you try.