Welcome back to the podcast. I hope you are still hanging in there as we continue with social distancing. In light of the recent COVID-19 pandemic, I wanted to include an article Christy Harrison recently wrote for WIRED. There’s been a lot of misinformation out there about COVID-19 and obesity, so she clears up much of this in the article.
For this week’s episode, we are picking up where we left off on the Intuitive Eating Series with Principle 1: Reject the Diet Mentality. In this episode, we’ll talk about why the dieting is so alluring , why it’s set up for failure, and how to reject the diet mentality to move closer to becoming and Intuitive Eater.
If you’re reading this, then you have probably put yourself on a diet at some point in your life. More than likely, you’ve tried multiple restrictive diets. According to Marketdata, in 2018 the weight-loss market reached $72 billion (1). I can about imagine that this number has only increased in 2019. Yet, here you are—back at square one—searching for another diet full of exciting promises. You’ve probably felt like you failed diets in the past . “If only I had more willpower and had stuck to my plan…” Or you might reminisce about past diets and remind yourself how you had lost x amount of weight. “Why did I let myself go again?”
The truth of the matter is that YOU are not the problem. The dieting system itself is set up for failure. And it’s time to reject diet mentality once and for all.
The thought of rejecting diet mentality may sound exhilarating and frightening all at the same time. Leaving behind the old diet rules that you’ve been hanging onto is going to be a little scary at first. Those diet rules have been a frenemy to you for so long. You love them because you heard that your friend’s aunt lost so much weight following those rules; but you hate them because they control your life.
Repeat after me—Diets. Do. Not. Work!
You hear of short, quick weight loss surrounding the latest diet trend. However, when you look down the road, the evidence points to regaining weight (and usually additional weight). It’s called the Dieter’s Dilemma and it’s driven by the desire to be thin (2). We go through this dilemma each time we decide to start a new diet plan.
Don’t allow the false hope of there being another diet around the corner linger in the back of your mind. In order to find peace with food, you must fully reject the diet mentality. This means not only giving up dieting, but also the sneaky rules you follow when not on a diet (ie. no eating after 6pm, low carbs, etc).
When letting go of diet mentality, there may be multiple fears that arise in the back of your mind. “But what am I supposed to do if I don’t follow rules? Won’t I be out of control around food?” The reality is that once you start eating intuitively, you learn to listen to your inner signals which will guide your eating. Your body is smarter than you give it credit for. You may be fearful that without rules, you will go crazy around food. In reality, the food rules are what cause you to overeat. Once you are told you can’t have something, you automatically start to crave that food. If there was some kind of miracle diet with proven long-term results—don’t you think we would all be doing it? In the book, Intuitive Eating, I love the line: “Remember, as long as there is money to be made, there will always be a new gimmick or diet for a quick-weight-loss fix.”
How can you lose the diet mentality? As the Intuitive Eating book describes in detail, you need a paradigm shift. You need to re-frame your thoughts. To first shift your perspective, you must recognize and acknowledge the damage that dieting causes. Evidence shows that dieting actually increases your risk for gaining weight and also slows metabolism. One of the most notable studies was a six-year follow-up study of the contestants on The Biggest Loser (3). This study identified that contestants’ metabolism was suppressed by 500 calories on average. As you might guess, they gained back a significant amount of weight. While this show may be an extreme weight loss scenario, it still serves as an important reminder of the failures of diet culture. For more examples of how dieting doesn’t work, I encourage you pick up a copy of the Intuitive Eating book, workbook, and Linda Bacon’s Health at Every Size.
The second step to shifting your mindset away from diet mentality is to identify what diet mentality looks like. One of the journal prompts I have included this week will help you with this. Take some time and reflect on some ideas that you have about eating. Dissect these statements. For example, you might look at the common misconception: “carbs are bad for me.” You can ask yourself: Is that really true? Do carbs play a role in the human body? Why do people think carbs are ‘bad’? Once you dive into those thoughts (you might also want the guidance of a professional), you’ll realize that carbohydrates are actually the body’s preferred source of fuel. We would not be doing our body justice by eliminating them.
A final step to shifting your perspective on diets is to get rid of dieting tools. This means letting go of obsessively weighing yourself and using that number as a validation of success.
You can read my past post about why you shouldn’t worry about weight. In addition, today people often use their fitness watches as a means of measuring their success. While I’m all for being more physically active throughout the day, when using these devices with thoughts like “I can’t eat lunch unless I have x steps in” then we are using them as tools of diet culture. Be careful of this! Take some time to identify what has been in your dieter toolkit. You will soon start replacing your toolkit with a new set of empowerment tools. Now you will be able identify progress as a normalized relationship with food and putting a stop to worries and obsessions surrounding food and weight.
1.) What damage has dieting caused in your life? Mentally? Physically? Socially?
2.) What are some things you can tell yourself when diet mentality creeps into your thoughts?
3.) What have you traditionally used as a measure of dieting success? Calorie trackers? Weight? Calories burned? What could you implement in place that is more empowering?
1.) Marketdata Enterprises Inc. (2018). The U.S. Weight Loss & Diet Control Market. 1-457.
2.) Tribole, E. & Resch, E. (2012). Intuitive eating, 3rd edition. New York, NY: St. Martin’s Griffin.
3.) Fothergill, E., Guo, J., Howard, L., Kerns, J. C., Knuth, N. D., Brychta, R…Hall, K. D. (2016). Persistent metabolic adapttion 6 years after “The Biggest Loser” competition. Obesity Biology and Integrated Physiology, 24(8), 1612-9.