3 Steps to Rejecting the Diet Mentality

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This post is the second part of my unpacking intuitive eating blog post series. If you are fed up with dieting, but still want to care for your body and stop feeling stressed about food, this post is for you. Let’s dive into principle number one of intuitive eating – reject the diet mentality.

 

By now, most of us have likely heard that dieting doesn’t work (or that it flat out sucks).  The diet industry knows this and has even started to change the language they use to lure you in. Instead of saying the dirty word “diet” they are using phrases like “lifestyle change,” “freestyle,” “mindset,” and “clean eating.” At the end of the day, unfortunately, it’s the same thing packaged in a different way. It usually includes some form of restriction, external rules, and lists of “eat this, not that.” It sets you up for failure because it doesn’t give you the tools to help you build a positive relationship with food and your body. They don’t allow you to do the work to build trust that you have the inner wisdom to know what, when, and how much to eat. They keep you playing small by making you believe that being thin or losing weight is the key to solving all your problems.

Why do most individuals go on a diet? It’s no secret. About 95% of individuals who pursue dieting do so to lose weight. The sad truth is that dieting has not been proven to work long-term. Most dieters re-gain weight lost within 2 years and end up with a host of side effects including lowered self-esteem, body dissatisfaction, slowed metabolism, and psychological harm including disordered eating or a full-blown eating disorder. Rejecting the diet mentality (aka rejecting dieting) is scary territory. If you aren’t following a diet – what will happen? What will your body do? How will you eat? There are many fears that can perpetuate the need for a “safety net” of dieting and the desire for control around food.

How can we move past these fears and explore a new way of thinking about food and health? Here are some steps to help you shift gears and set a foundation for long-term, sustainable behaviors that you can truly enjoy.

 

1.     Recognize the futility of dieting by exploring your history with dieting.

Spend at least 15 minutes to create a timeline of diets you’ve been on. Assess how much of your life has been spent on/off diets. As you create your timeline, ask yourself: 

  • How much time and money has been spent? 
  • Did any diet actually give you what you wanted? 
  • Any impact on self-esteem? 
  • How did you feel on the diet?
  • How did you feel around food? 
  • How often did nutrition facts come before enjoyment?
  • Any impact on social life or relationships?

Reflect on how diets have served you (or not served you) and ask yourself, why would I choose to continue to do the same thing over and over, yet expect different results? How much of my life do I want to spend obsessing over food and my body? Am I doing this because I love my body or hate my body? Am I more valuable if I take up less space?

 

2.     Become aware of diet mentality traits and thinking.

Some common words or phrases that can play in a dieter’s mind are: willpower, obedience, failing, good, bad, cheat day, control, guilt, shame, calories, fattening, skinny, clean, and junk. Black and white thinking about food and exercise is like trying to breathe through a straw – you can do it for a while – but eventually you want to rip the straw out and take a deep breath. This is the dieters dilemma (see graphic below).

 Graphic interpretation from  Intuitive Eating  by Resch & Tribole.

Graphic interpretation from Intuitive Eating by Resch & Tribole.

Dieting actually increases cravings and feelings of being out of control around food. Oftentimes when we are told not to do something, it can make us feel rebellious and deprived, which can eventually lead to giving in. We then feel guilty and that we have “no willpower” which can shame spiral us into negative behaviors. When we remove the prescriptive rules, we can then begin to build confidence in our ability to self-regulate our food intake and make choices that honor our health and our taste buds.

 

3.     Replace the scale with self-compassion.

One of the biggest tools in the dieting world is the scale. It is often the driving view of “progress.” The reality is that the scale does not tell us anything other than our relationship with gravity. It doesn’t tell you how valuable you are, how deserving of love and acceptance you are, your body composition, or how “healthy” you are in mind and body. It is simply a number. In the dieting mentality, however, this number can create a whole lot of drama and disrupt the endeavor to build a positive partnership with your body and mind. 

Rather than weighing in on the scale, weigh in on how you talk to yourself when it comes to food and your body. Is there a difference between how you speak to yourself versus a close friend or family member who may be struggling? Practicing self-compassion helps you to build resilience, accept vulnerability, and take on new challenges. With time, you will find that the more caring and supportive you are towards yourself, the more likely you will be to change unhelpful behaviors or thought patterns. 

 

Keep in mind that we live in a culture steeped with morality around bodies and foods. Diet culture is practically a religion that is inescapable. Be patient as you learn to let go of the diet mentality and reconnect with your innate ability to feed yourself without fear or restrictions.

 

Interested in learning more about this non-diet approach? Are you ready to make peace with your body and with food? Set up a free 30-minute discovery call today to see if we would be a good fit to work together. Get the support you need on your journey!