There’s nothing wrong with eating healthy foods that nourish your body. But when it creates an obsessive grip on your mind, fear takes precedence over its positive benefits. Here’s how to make it stop.
By now, most of us have heard that dieting doesn’t work. The diet industry knows this, and has even started to change the language they use to lure you in. Instead of saying the word “diet”, they are using phrases such as “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 make you believe that being thin or losing weight is the key to solving all your health 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 regain the weight that was 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. But why do people continue to do it?
Because it has become a normalized behavior that many associate with being healthy.
Rejecting the diet mentality, as it turns out, is scary territory for many. 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 or 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 thought patterns.
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.
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 that we have “no willpower”, and the shame further spirals 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 unnecessary 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 our bodies and food. 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.
Adapted from the original article.
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Lindsay Sparks, RDN is a Registered Dietitian based in Springfield, MO. In her private practice, she focuses on empowering others to embrace their bodies and live a life well-nourished. Through food, health at every size, and intuitive eating principles, she helps others cultivate meaningful, happy lives. Learn more about Lindsay at Feed Your Spark.