Damned if you diet. Damned if you don't.
If you’re like many women, the idea of not dieting, or at least not thinking about dieting can be completely foreign and maybe even a little scary. It’s normal to feel worried about letting go of dieting, especially when the world around you seems to be on one long perpetual diet. Many of us get stuck between the fear of living the rest of their life on a diet and the fear of gaining more weight if they stop dieting. Remember though, in last month’s blog post, Why Diets Make It Worse, I talked about how diets actually make you gain more weight.
Evelyn Tribole & Elyse Resch, co-authors of Intuitive Eating, A Revolutionary Program That Works, describe three common fears of rejecting the diet mentality:
- If I stop dieting I won’t stop eating – The reality is that dieting if often the trigger for overeating. It’s the restriction and deprivations of diets that result in post-diet overeating. Once your body learns that you will no longer be starving it through dieting, the intense drive to eat (and eat and eat…) decreases.
- I don’t know how to eat when I’m not dieting – When you’ve been thinking about food for so long in terms of calories, carbs, points, proteins etc. it can be hard to believe that your body knows what it needs. But your body does know what it needs. Moving away from diets and toward mindful eating allows you to tune into your body’s natural signals to guide your eating. More on how to get started with the basics of mindful eating in next month’s post. Your body wasn’t born on a diet. And even though it may feel like you’ve been dieting your whole life, there were many years that you weren’t dieting. You were born a mindful eater and simply need to reconnect with your inner mindful eater again.
- If I stop dieting I’ll eat out of control – With mindful eating, instead of feeling like you need to control you’re eating you will be relying on your body’s natural internal signals. Nobody can be the expert of you better than you Only you know your thoughts, feelings and experiences. No diets, meal plans, apps or counters are needed. Your body was born with all it needs to guide your eating. Through mindful eating you can learn to listen to and honor your physical and emotional cues. This then helps you to feel empowered rather than restricted.
The Diet Void
Tribole and Resch go on to describe what they refer to as “The Diet Void”. For many women dieting has been a way to cope with life. Dieting fills up time and can serves as a symbol of control in your life. Think of the many times in your life when you started a diet. Dieting often coincides with difficult times or transitions in your life like adolescence, leaving home, getting married, starting a new job, giving birth, or having relationship difficulties. While your dieting efforts may have been futile, they might also have offered excitement and hope at the time. The exhilaration of quick initial weight loss and watching the number on the scale go down can be exciting. When you’re ready to say good-bye to the thrill of starting a new diet you’ll also be letting go of the false hope and disappointments of dieting.
There’s a social aspect to dieting as well called “diet bonding”. When you decide to give up dieting, you might be surprised how often diets are the topics of conversation. This can leave you feeling a bit left out.
The One-Last-Diet Trap
Even when you come to terms with the harm that dieting causes your mind and body, it can be difficult to take the first step to actually stop dieting. A common conflict of chronic dieters have in hitting diet rock-bottom, is thinking that one last diet will work. And so begins the familiar dieter’s hope of "Just let me lose the weight now. Then I’ll figure it out". Giving into another diet is one of the biggest traps because it doesn’t face the reality that diets make it worse. We learned in last month’s post that dieting actually increases your risk of gaining even more weight. So how could another diet truly be part of the solution?
The "I'm not on a diet" Diet
Some women have “given up on dieting” but still have trouble shaking off the diet mentality. Tribole and Resch call this “pseudo-dieting”. Pseudo-dieting looks a lot like dieting and often feels like dieting unconsciously, even if you're not "on a diet". Pseudo-dieting can be harder to spot, but pseudo-dieters still suffer the same side effects of dieting, even if they’re not aware that they’re still thinking like a dieter. Do any of these pseudo-dieting behaviors sound familiar?
- Counting calories, carbohydrates, points, grams or any other limiting factor related to food
- Eating only “safe” or “healthy” foods
- Eating (or avoiding eating) at certain times of the day regardless of your physical hunger
- Making up for or “paying penance” for eating “bad” foods by skipping meals, eating less, exercising more, or vowing to be “good” tomorrow
- Cutting back on food, especially when “feeling fat” or when a special event is coming up
- Drinking calorie-free beverages instead of eating when you’re hungry
- Omiting or significantly limiting certain food groups, such as carbohydrates even though you like to eat them
- Putting on a “false food face” in public by eating “healthy” in front of other people
- Competing with friends, family or significant other who is dieting
- Judging what you ”deserve” to eat based on what you’ve eaten earlier in the day rather than on your own personal hunger cues
- Becoming a vegetarian or eating a gluten-free diet for the purpose of losing weight
- Drinking a protein shake for breakfast and lunch, followed by a “sensible” dinner
The Dieter's Dilemma
Whether you are engaged in bona fide dieting or pseudo-dieting, both leads to problems. The futility of dieting is explained in the Dieter’s Dilemma, created by psychologists, John P Foreyt and G. Ken Goodrick. The Dieter’s Dilemma is triggered by the desire to lose weight, which leads to dieting. Dieting then increases food cravings. The dieter gives into carvings, overeats and eventually regains weight. The dieter is then back at their original weight or higher. Once again, the dieter has the desire to lose weight, and so another diet begins again. The Dieter’s Dilemma gets worse with each turn of the cycle. Often times, the dieter becomes heavier and feels more out of control with food. How do you end the dieting cycle? You must make the decision to reject dieting once and for all.
How To Reject The Diet Mentality
To let go of the diet mentality you need a break from old ways of thinking. Only then can you build a healthier relationship with food and your body. This is where developing a mindful eating practice can be so helpful! Below are suggestions to help you start to let go of your diet mentality today:
- Recognize the damage that dieting causes – This was the topic of last month’s blog post. If you need a refresher, or if you haven’t read this post yet, check it out HERE.
- Be aware of diet thinking – The diet mentality surfaces in subtle ways, even after you decide to let go of dieting. Feeling like you need to have more willpower, or that you need to be stricter with your eating can be signs that the diet mentality is creeping in. Fear of failure can also be a sign of diet thinking.
- Get rid of dieting tools – Common dieting tools are diet books, magazines and Apps, “healthy” cookbooks, meal plans, food scales, bathroom scales and diet foods (just to name a few). The most effective way to free yourself from these dieting tools is to consider letting go of them. At least consider putting them out of sight if you decide you’re not quite ready. If you are ready to let them go then delete them from your phone, give them away, donate them or throw them out.
- Stop competing and comparing – When the topic of dieting comes up among family and friends, resist the urge to join in. Conversations around diets tend to focus on weight or inches lost. These types of conversations take you down a path of comparing and thinking in terms of success or failure. Instead of joining in, try starting a conversation about giving up dieting and learning more about mindful eating.
- Be compassionate with yourself – When it seems like the world around you is on a diet, it’s easy to get pulled back in. Dieting offers rituals to organize your day. Dieting creates a moral code to live and eat by and a common community for many women. When you consider these covert “benefits” of dieting, no wonder you can get seduced by dieting. Don’t beat yourself up for entertaining the notion of trying one more diet, or even for just wanting to diet. It can take a while to let go of this desire, even when you understand that the pursuit of it is truly futile.