The very first principle of Intuitive Eating, Reject the Diet Mentality, is one of the hardest for my nutrition clients.
Most come to me with a history of being unhappy with their weight and struggling with eating foods that leave them feeling satisfied, healthy, and happy.
Some clients have a history trying diets like Weight Watchers, Atkins, Paleo, etc. Others tell me how they learned to avoid foods like dairy, gluten, starches, etc. Many explain that they tried to “eat healthily” and lose weight for years, and they are yet to stick to any “plan.”
They usually feel frustrated with themselves, feel ashamed that they haven’t “worked hard enough” or had enough “discipline.” There is this common element of deep shame and guilt as they describe their history with food and body.
Here is the good news!
You did not fail diets. Diets failed you.
I like to call these particular ways of eating “diets.” Sometimes it’s a fad diet like Weight Watchers or “clean eating.” Other times it is just a rigid idea that by eating certain foods and avoiding others, they can achieve this happier and healthier life (spoiler alert: it’s not that simple).
As a dietitian, my colleagues and I have found that diets do not work. These false ideas that we are programmed to follow strict eating regimens to live an optimum life, end up leaving people feeling like failures.
People enjoy food for many reasons besides nutrition. Psychological satisfaction is equally important. When you ignore or neglect this by practicing what feels like “discipline” or “self-control,” you become more unsatisfied. This action can lead a person to crave even more foods.
What are the Other Consequences of Diets?
In addition to causing a damaged relationship with food, dieting causes weight gain. Most people lose weight when starting a diet. They are sometimes able to keep it off for a short amount of time, but research shows that most people regain that weight and add more weight within five years of starting the diet.
The process of losing and re-gaining weight is what we call weight-cycling.
Weight-cycling is extremely harmful to your health because it’s associated with high blood pressure, high cholesterol, increased risk for heart attacks, and strokes, and more. It is for this reason that I practice nutrition with a weight-neutral approach.
Body Diversity is a Fact of Life
A weight-neutral approach means that I do not urge my clients to lose weight. Unlike many healthcare providers, I understand that my clients come in all shapes and sizes for a variety of reasons. Some of them are naturally larger or thinner. Some of them have conditions that affect their weight. Some of them have metabolisms that have become damaged from years of dieting and weight cycling. When we yo-yo diet, we end up slowing down our metabolism and ratcheting our set-point (the weight range at which you are biologically programmed to be most comfortable for your body) every time. So, your avoidance of weight gain leads to weight gain.
It’s probably not something you want to hear, but many of my clients have suppressed their body weight with chronic dieting. Therefore I help my clients to accept and nourish their “here and now” bodies! People find freedom and happiness from learning to listen to and learn from their bodies through this exploratory process. This process of accepting their bodies and letting go of weight loss is the cornerstone of transforming their relationship with food. Body diversity is a fact of life. We aren’t all meant to be the same size!
Transforming Your Relationship with Food
I find that my clients ultimately want to have relationships with food that are not black and white. They want to enjoy a piece of cake for their birthday (or even without a special occasion). They want to say yes to an impromptu dinner date with friends without worrying about calories on a menu. They also want to stop thinking about food all of the time. They want food to become a part of their life that does not require so much planning and energy. I help people learn to change their relationship with food through intuitive eating.
Discover that You are Worth so Much More than Your Weight or Health Status
Way too many of us wrap up our self-worth in how healthy we are, or how much we weigh. We need to start thinking about our value as a human being. Our mark left upon this world isn’t about our weight or our health. It’s about what we contribute to this vast universe, and what might remain when we inevitably aren’t a part of it anymore. No diet can save you from the fact that yes, you will die one day. And in your old age, is starving yourself the one thing you want to be remembered for?
There are so many other ways we need to break down the diet mentality within us, and this is just the start. If you’re looking for support on your journey, be sure to check out all of my resources available!
RESOURCES TO HELP YOU:
If you’ve had enough of diets, enough of restricting yourself from certain foods, enough of binge eating on foods that seem to call your name and letting a number on the scales determine your worth and your value; if you want to change all this, check out my Intuitive Eating Essentials for Midlife, Menopause and Beyond course. This is a self-study program that teaches you the steps of moving into intuitive eating and learning to accept and even love your body.
Don’t get trapped in the diet culture world. You can be part of a Health at Every Size® world where you love your body and yourself! Start today! You CAN change your life!
Article Contributors: Kimberly Singh, MS and Ashley Seruya, BS