When you have a diet mentality, you might restrict how much you eat, count calories, count points, control your portions or avoid certain foods because they’re “unhealthy” or high in calories.
You might have strict rules around eating, such as no food after 7 p.m. or no snacking in general — even if you’re hungry. You might avoid dessert at all costs or restrict yourself to one sweet treat a week. You might feel guilty after eating or ashamed that you can’t lose weight.
Our society, sadly, is deeply entrenched in this diet mentality, which makes it that much harder to let go. We see dieting everywhere — in ads, commercials and women’s magazines.
But even though you hear great things about dieting, it actually comes with many negative consequences. For starters, diets are hard to maintain — because of the deprivation — and people often end up yo-yo dieting. Research has found that yo-yo dieting is highly unhealthy and associated with cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.
Your body also defends itself against dieting. In an interview on my body image blog Weightless, Judith Matz and Ellen Frankel, both therapists and authors of The Diet Survivor’s Handbook: 60 Lessons in Eating, Acceptance and Self-Care, said:
Each time the body defends itself against a diet, it becomes more efficient at storing fat. Studies have repeatedly revealed that compared to their non-dieting counterparts, dieters are more likely to gain weight in the long run. In fact, David Garner, an eating disorders specialist, has explained that the best way to gain weight is to go on a diet to lose weight!
Research also has shown that people who diet report being more stressed and depressed than non-dieters. Dieting even leads to overeating. Think about it: When you let yourself eat whatever you want, you might consume a cookie or two. But when you’re dieting, suddenly you crave four.
Plus, dieting encourages you to ignore your body and focus on outside rules. This might lead you to forget what being hungry and full even feels like.
So if you’d like to stop dieting and have a healthier relationship with food, what can you do?
Here are three ideas on ditching the damaging diet mentality.
1. Dig deep into your dieting ways.
In her book, It’s Not About The Food: A Woman’s Guide to Making Peace With Food and Our Bodies, therapist Esther Kane suggests asking yourself three questions to explore your dieting history and reasons for dieting.
· How many diets have you been on in your life?
· Have any of them worked over the long-term for you?
· Why do you diet?
2. Remember that diets don’t work.
One of the reasons why many people keep dieting is because they think that the next diet they try will work. They think that they’re the problem and that they just need to try harder and have stronger willpower.
But yo-yo dieting is not a failure on your part. Diets fail because they simply don’t work. Diets fail you, not the other way around. Studies have found that diets have a long-term failure rate of about 95 percent.
Here’s an excellent article about 16 things that are wrong with dieting. Print it out, and keep it handy when you need reminding!
3. Discover intuitive eating.
Eating intuitively simply means responding to your body’s cues of hunger and fullness. It helps you build a healthier relationship with food and let go of the shame surrounding eating. It helps you learn to honor your body and mind. Check out intuitive eating’s 10 principles here. You also might want to check out the book on intuitive eating and my two-part series with co-author Evelyn Tribole on Weightless: Part 1 and Part 2.