Rejecting the Diet Mentality
“My diet starts tomorrow.” That’s what we usually say with the hope that this time, it’ll be different. This time, it’s going to work. We’ve tried the paleo, keto, and low-fat. But we’ve never tried this new one! Yet time and time again the results have come and gone and we end up right where we started—unhappy. I know, huge bummer, right? I want to share an alternative approach to this diet mentality. One that I have found leads to much happier results that last a lifetime.
Enter: Intuitive eating. Intuitive eating is an alternative to dieting. It provides a wholistic and positive view of health. It is a “self-care eating framework, which integrates instinct, emotion, and rational thought” (intuitiveeating.org). Intuitive eating has 10 principles that build upon each other and lead to lasting health and food freedom. In a series of 10 posts, I’d like to explore each of the 10 principles of intuitive eating. Today we’ll start with the first principle: Reject the diet mentality.
Now, for some, a strict diet approach works for them. It doesn’t interfere with their lives in any way, and they like the structure. However, for the majority of us, dieting instead works against us, making us feel like failures. That’s because diets take advantage of something known as The Dieter’s Dilemma:
You want to be thin, you find a diet, you restrict all of your favorite foods, you begin to crave said foods, you then binge said foods, regain the weight (maybe even more weight), and then you get back to wanting to be thin again.
The best way to stop any vicious cycle? Prevent the first step. In this case, that’s wanting to be thin. Now, that can be a hard pill for most to swallow. Isn’t weight loss a good thing? As a dietitian, I am still trying to reconcile the concepts of healthy weight loss and intuitive eating. I don’t have a perfect answer. I can say that an overwhelming amount of research indicates most dieters regain the weight lost during dieting, and then some. And I think that deserves to be looked at more closely. So, if research shows most dieters wanting to lose weight end up regaining the weight anyways, shouldn’t we change our approach to health? To change our approach, we first have to understand the end goal and therefore ask ourselves: what does it even mean to be healthy?
Health at Every Size (HAES) is a movement acknowledging healthy habits as a greater reflector of health than a number on a scale. Imagine two different people. The first is someone who runs 3 miles a day, eats a balanced diet, sleeps 8 hours every evening, and meditates for 10 minutes a day. The second is someone who spends most of their day at a desk or on a couch, eats 2 colors of the rainbow throughout the day, and runs on 5 hours of sleep. Who would you say is healthy? Say I asked the same question, but now you only know the first person weighs 200 pounds, and the second person weighs 150 pounds. Not as telling of a picture, right? Then why are we so obsessed with using weight as an indicator of health? HAES, along with intuitive eating, proposes we don’t.
In this first step, intuitive eating proposes we instead toss out the diet books and rules and form healthy habits as an indicator of health. Because research shows a strict weight loss diet is simply not healthy in the long-run for most of us. In addition to weight regain, chronic dieting is associated with binges and cravings, slower metabolism, changes in body composition, increased risk for heart disease, and decreased satiety. We create results different from these by creating different motivations. We don’t go on a diet because we want to be thin. We cultivate healthy habits because we want to be healthy and happy. We break the vicious cycle by forming a new pattern of thought. Intuitive eating offers that new pattern of thought. One that focuses on the healthy habits our bodies need (and desire!), rather than weight loss. Now some intuitive eaters may experience appropriate weight loss alongside their new healthy habits and that is great. Just remember, weight loss is simply a side effect of the main goal: self-care. So, don’t be discouraged if you aren’t shedding pounds right away.
Rejecting the diet mentality is a crucial step to your intuitive eating process. This journey will not work if you are still holding out for a magical diet to come along and save the day. Can you let go of the hope for a new, exciting fad diet? Here are some ideas to help you let go:
How do you actually reject the diet mentality?
- Consider your diet history and ask yourself, did the diet consistently work in the long run?
- What has dieting cost you? Consider your relationships, mental health, eating behavior, time, food preoccupation, and money.
- Change your language. Get rid of words that make you feel stuck. Flag words like clean, good, bad, cheat meal. Instead of saying have I earned this?, try am I hungry?. Or I feel strong after I work out instead of if I work out for 30 minutes, I can work off that cookie I ate earlier.
- How do you feel about the concept of health at every size? Can you be larger and still be healthy?
- What are your triggers for wanting to go on a diet? Instagram? Family? Friends? Become aware, and prepare for when those triggers pop up again.
- Be kind to yourself. Give yourself patience, love, understanding, and grace. Unlearning the diet mentality takes time.
From my personal experience, I have found intuitive eating to be a mentally and emotionally freeing way to consider my health. I have never felt more balanced and happy. I hope you do as well.
With all of that being said, intuitive eating may not be for you right now. There are a lot of moving parts to health. Please do learn more about intuitive eating through this blog series, but it’s always good to have a one-on-one conversation with a health professional before making drastic health changes. Feel free to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like to discuss your individual circumstance.