Ditch The Diet Mentality



What comes to mind when you think of dieting?

Is it one of the all too popular keto, paleo, pegan, vegan, or whole 30 diets? (Yes, they are diets.) Is it juice cleansing, “clean eating”, dairy-free, gluten-free, or raw? (GOOP and MindBodyGreen subscribers beware). Or is it your mother, grandmother, father, cousin, friend or you receiving large packages in the mail of vacuum-packed diet meals or shakes? (I imagine this food could survive the apocalypse).

Most of you are familiar with dieting and the many garden varieties it comes in.

Dieting may have been passed down through generations of your family members or through your friend circles, all of them teaching you the secrets and tips on how to eat less, stretch your points, when to drink water, the right times of day to weigh yourself, etc.

Or you may have been told by a doctor (or other health practitioner) to lose weight in the name of “health” and a diet was suggested to you. Or maybe you read about the “evils” of the food industry, prompting you to cut out many foods in the name of "wellness and health".

Or maybe you hate your body and you have tried many times over to make it look like what society tells you it should look like, molding it into something that is smaller, taking up less space. 

With each new diet or restrictive eating endeavor, there is often lots of hope. Hope for a new body, a new life, the hope of accomplishing and doing things that you think you cannot do now, pleasure withheld until you reach that ideal number, until the scale tells you that you are worthy enough.

Do you remember experiencing a "high" of sorts at the excitement of losing weight, of starting a new diet? How long did this last? And what happened when you started to, say, grow tired of eating the same foods or of the restriction? What happened when you started to crave foods that were not permitted on your diet?

Let me guess: you overate or binged on those same foods, felt guilty and then decided to “blow” your diet, promising yourself that you would start again tomorrow. Tomorrow will be a new day; tomorrow I will be “good”. Feelings of guilt and shame washed over you and you blamed yourself for not having enough will power or control. 

But guess what? THE DIEt FAILED YOU. 

Think about it: If diets where held to the same standards as medications, they would never be allowed. Most people are surprised to hear that dieting doesn’t work in the long run and are even more surprised to hear that they actually increase your chances of gaining even more weight

Yes, you heard the right, MORE weight. But why is this? And why, you might ask, do diets (or diets masqued as healthy lifestyles) continue to promote themselves if they don’t work in the long-term?

Short answer: it’s a great business model. 

There are profound biological mechanisms that exist to help you to survive and thus help to trigger weight gain from dieting. As far as your cells know, you are in famine and they cannot tell the difference between you restricting your calories, or some group of food, and actual starvation. (If you ever watched the well-known "The Magical School Bus" with your kids or when you were growing up, you might imagine what this looks like. You're welcome.) 

So, what does the body do to help you survive while you restrict and diet?

It slows down metabolism, uses your muscle for fuel, fat-overshoots when you regain the weight, increases hormones that make you feel hungry and decreases fullness hormones. With each [new] diet, your body learns how to adapt and learns how to survive, making it even harder to lose weight. And with each attempt, you may feel more and more helpless, more like it’s your fault that you are gaining weight, like you are not doing it "right" and that you need to "try harder". 

Well let me tell you this ( insert me yelling this from the rooftop with a megaphone, ideally one of the rooftops owned by Weight Watchers): IT. IS. NOT. YOUR. FAULT. 

With each diet, each failed attempt, a learned feeling of helplessness and disempowerment increases, which can cause you to stop believing in your innate ability to achieve goals. Each time, your body dissatisfaction increases, preoccupation with food increases, food cravings magnify or increase and self esteem decreases.

Does this feel familiar?  I bet it does. I see you shaking your head over there. 

When you decide to diet, what you choose to eat is determined by diet rules, regardless of your food preferences, energy needs, or hunger levels, all of which can trigger feelings of deprivation.  And guess what this can lead to? Overeating or binging. Yes, restriction can cause binging behaviors. 

“If you allow even one small hope to linger that a new and better diet might be lurking around the corner, it will prevent you from being free to rediscover Intuitive Eating.” -Evelyn Tribole & Elyse Resch, Creators of Intuitive Eating

This is why, when you begin your journey to become an intuitive eater, the first step you must take is to reject the diet mentality. This is often easier said than done depending on how long you have been on a diet and how many rules you have accumulated over the years.

A dieting mentality erodes trust in your body because the rules guide your food choices, regardless of how you feel. 

This is why Intuitive eating is based on attunement and the uses the direct experience in your body and your life to create a new relationship with food. It’s a process of learning how to listen and respond to your body in a new way. 

Through cultivating self-compassion, understanding how dieting has interfered with your life, exploring the benefits of letting go of dieting, identifying the diet mentality’s traits, and getting rid of the dieting tools for good, you too can begin your journey toward having a new relationship with food!

If you are ready to ditch the diet, develop a new relationship with food and your body, and become an intuitive eater, come join me!

Interested in more? Click here to get connected with Bravespace Nutrition.