Are you at diet rock bottom? Are you struggling with your relationship to food?
Most of my clients come to see me when they’ve hit “diet rock bottom” – they have tried every diet or fad, only to feel like a failure, but they also recognize that they aren’t sure how to eat healthfully without following a diet. We call this diet rock bottom for a reason – they’re at that point where they realize diets haven’t served them, and really don’t want to go on another one, but also are at a loss as to what to do next. In comes intuitive eating and slowly getting out of the diet mentality, to find a balanced way of eating that works LONG TERM, while also prioritizing other aspects of health – like mental, social & emotional health, too! (Because let’s face it – diets aren’t good for our mental or emotional health)
Diets set you up to fail – they literally only work for less than 5% of the population. Would you take a medication that had a 95+% failure rate? And came with harmful side effects? No way! Yet here we are, always trying diet after diet, when the research shows that they simply do not work long-term.
So whether you’re truly convinced that diets are ineffective, or you simply recognize that dieting causes a strained and stressful relationship to food for you, let’s discuss some helpful tips to Reject the Diet Mentality – one of the ten principles of Intuitive Eating.
• Recognize and acknowledge the harms of dieting
The reason why most non-diet Dietitians get fired up about intuitive eating and quitting diets is that we know the extensive research of how harmful diets can be. This isn’t shared enough — people only share the “highlights” of their diet – “I lost ___lbs!”, yet they don’t share the dark aftermath when they’re obsessively counting calories, have worse body image, increased stress, and ultimately gain the weight back.
Here are some of the top evidence-based side effects of dieting:
- decreased metabolism & weight gain – dieting triggers the body to decrease metabolism to better use energy when calories are decreased. The Biggest Loser study showed this decreased metabolism lasted for 6 years after they dieted! This results in eating less and less and less each time you diet because your body adapts to this decrease in energy. For an efficient metabolism, you have to be eating ENOUGH first and foremost!
- decreased body trust
- increased stress & anxiety, especially around food
- atrophied hunger & fullness cues
- increased risk of developing disordered eating & an eating disorder – dieters are 8x (!) more likely to suffer from an eating disorder by the age of 15 than non-dieters.
- dieting causes body shape to change – those that yo-yo diet and lose & gain the same weight tend to store weight in the abdominal region, which puts you at an increased risk of heart disease. Your body also retains more fat when you do start eating normally again after a period of under-eating (aka dieting).
- increased risk of premature death and heart disease – a 32 year study of more than 3,000 men and women showed that regardless of initial weight, those that had their weight go up and down repeatedly, also known as weight cycling, had a higher overall death rate and twice the normal risk of dying from heart disease.
- increased binge eating, emotional eating, and cravings
- correlated with feelings of failure, lowered self-esteem, social anxiety, no matter your actual body weight (!)
• Get honest with yourself – you may be “pseudo-dieting”
Even if you aren’t on an obvious fad diet, you could still be dieting! This is because dieting really is any imposed food rules, trying to control portions, or following a way of eating to control your body shape.
Here are some signs that you could still be dieting:
- You follow rules for when, what, or how much to eat
- You consume only “Safe” foods or foods you deem healthy
- You meticulously count something – whether it’s calories, macros, points, carbs, sugar, you name it – if numbers are involved you’re dieting!
- You limit “unhealthy” foods or feel guilty when you eat foods you deem “Bad”
- you pay penance for eating unhealthy foods – whether that’s hitting the gym the next day, eating less the next day, or trying to control what you’re eating after
- You eat at only certain times of the day, rather the listening to your body (hello, intermittent fasting..)
- You compete with someone else who is dieting or “eating healthy”
- You follow a vegetarian/vegan/gluten-free etc. diet for the sake of your weight/losing weight
- You have off-limit foods with no medical necessity (gluten-free, sugar-free, etc.)
- Rigidly healthy eating – eating only “clean” foods, not allowing ANY processed foods (which is B.S. btw – almost all foods are processed in one way or another)
• Challenge the false beliefs that dieting has taught you -forget about failure & willpower
Willpower is B.S. We know from research that the more we restrict, avoid, and have off-limit foods, the more rewarding they become to our brain, and ultimately it’s much easier to “give in” and over-consume them. It literally increases cravings for that food. Our bodies are way too smart for willpower! If willpower actually worked, would you still be trying that new diet? Dieting also sets you up to fail – yet after we can’t sustain a diet, we often feel like the failure! (how ironic)…In intuitive eating there is no failure or willpower. So learn to get rid of these terms and thoughts to get out of the diet cycle.
• Get rid of the dieting “tools”
One way to start challenging the diet mentality and break free from diet culture is to get rid of the “tools” – that’s right, the scale, the phone apps, the magazines, the books, the instagram feeds, etc. One of the first things my clients and I do together is delete their My Fitness Pal app – it’s a big first step in quitting the diet mentality, and I encourage you to do the same! We also work in nutrition therapy to slowly put the scale on the back-burner – for some they are ready to throw the scale out, and others it takes quite some time to get to that point. Remember, your journey isn’t going to look like anyone else’s and that’s A-Okay!
• Challenge diet thinking
Challenge those thoughts that pop up that say you are “good” for eating a salad and “bad” for eating a hamburger. Bring awareness to your diet thoughts – that’s the first step to being able to change them!
Ultimately, dieting is a coping mechanism.
When we feel out of control, it’s easy to feel “in control” (falsely) when we follow rigid food rules. So maybe ask yourself, what have the patterns been like in my life when I was compelled to start a diet? What was going on for me – mentally, socially, emotionally? For example, most of my client started dieting when they had a life event that was tough – whether it was a loss of a loved one, increased depression, feeling “lost” in life career-wise, feeling lonely/moving to a new place, etc. When we focus on lifting up other areas of our life (Friendships, community, job, hobbies, spirituality, etc.), we are less likely to be compelled to diet.