If you’re a woman reading this, chances are you’ve been on at least one diet in your lifetime, and you may even be dieting right now. While keto is the current heavyweight champ of the dieting world, past popular diets have included everything from the grapefruit diet, to WeightWatchers, to SlimFast, to Atkins, to Paleo. But diet marketers are also getting smarter. The current trend in dieting is diets parading as “healthy lifestyles” – a clever marketing tool used to get around the anti-diet backlash. Diets are now being rebranded as things like “wellness,” “cleanses,” “resets,” etc. They sound good in theory, but unfortunately, they’re no different than other diets, and their promises fall just as flat.
So many people are on the hunt for that magic pill that will make them lose weight for good and finally achieve the promise of thinness (hell, the newest documentary on the keto diet is even titled “The Magic Pill”). As a past dieter myself, I understand how alluring this idea is. But the truth is that you’re unlikely to find any magic at all in yet another diet or diet masquerading as a healthy lifestyle.
When Clean Eating Makes You Feel Dirty
I fell hard into such a lifestyle myself back in 2010 when “clean eating” was climbing in the diet ranks. My time spent drinking the clean eating Kool-Aid certainly wasn’t all bad. I learned how to read labels, and I started eating mostly whole and unprocessed foods, which made me feel good. My taste buds changed a lot so that I no longer craved so much oil, salt, and sugar-laden foods. I also learned how to find recipes, cook, make substitutions, and navigate the grocery store. This was a far cry from my college days of Kraft Macaroni & Cheese, canned New England clam chowder, and a steady stream of pizza and Taco Bell.
And that’s true of most diets. Most diets are based in some sound nutritional recommendations and have at least a few useful tools to teach. But then those recommendations and tools are often twisted into dogma before being wrapped in righteousness, obsession, guilt, shame, and a laser focus on shrinking.
For example, during my clean-eating days I cut out all white sugar, white flour, and white pasta in the name of “health.” I remember skipping over risotto recipes that looked delicious because I was afraid to use arborio rice since it wasn’t brown rice and thus had “no nutritional value.” I became increasingly concerned with buying organic when food items were listed in the “dirty dozen” (the colloquial term for the produce that supposedly has the highest rates of pesticides). I remember my husband scoffing over me paying $4 for a single organic red bell pepper instead of just buying a much cheaper conventional pepper. I started obsessing over scanning ingredient lists for unpronounceable ingredients (unacceptable in the clean eating world) and worrying about the purity of my food. Maybe the worst part is that I was super judgy of the choices of others. Clean eating gave me a “holier than thou” attitude when it came to what other people were eating, whether it was family, friends, or complete strangers.
[Are you sick of getting wrapped up in the newest diet and gaining and losing the same weight over again? Get my FREE Intuitive Eating Quiz & Quickstart Guide HERE to see if Intuitive Eating might be right for you.]
Diets And “Lifestyles” Have All The Same Qualities
If you’re eating in such a way that you are restricting what you eat in order to lose weight, that’s a diet. If you are living in such a way that you are obsessing over food and your body to the detriment of other areas of your life, that’s a diet (and depending on the severity, may even be a disorder). You can call it anything you want, but I suggest just calling it what it is. Some other qualities of diets may include:
- The requirement to count things, whether that’s calories, grams, macros, or points
- Categorizing foods in black and white ways, like clean and dirty, good and bad, real and fake, or healthy and unhealthy
- Cutting out entire foods or food groups for a non-medical or non-ethical reason
- Demonizing certain ways of eating while putting other ways of eating on a pedestal
- Eating based on a blanket set of external food rules without consideration for your individual needs and preferences
- Equating thinness with “health”
- Weight gain being considered a sign that you’re not doing it right
You may be wondering why it matters so much to correctly label dieting behaviors as diets instead of other clever names, and the reason is that diets don’t work, no matter what they’re called. Even if the way you eat right now doesn’t have an official name like “paleo” or “keto,” if you’re eating based on the many diet rules you’ve picked up and internalized over the course of your life, doing so will lead to the same results as named diets.
Why It’s Time To Ditch Dieting For Good
So if diets and dieting behaviors are the norm, why should you give them up? Here are ten compelling reasons to release your grip on dieting and begin to come back to yourself instead:
- Diets don’t work. It’s estimated that only 5% of people who lose weight on a diet will actually go on to maintain that weight loss after five years. Imagine how you would feel about other things with a 5% success rate. Would you undergo a medical treatment that had only a 5% success rate? Would you put your children in a school where only 5% of students graduated? Maybe, but you’d sure put a lot more thought into the choice than most people put into starting a new diet.
- For most people, diets don’t lead to lasting changes. This not only includes lasting weight change, but lasting health-promoting habits, too. Has a diet ever worked for you permanently? Most people jump from diet to diet because diet rules trend toward unsustainable and unrealistic. When people can no longer maintain working out six days a week, they often stop working out all together. When eating ultra-low carb gets to be too much, a carb binge ensues.
- Diets increase hunger and decrease metabolism. Each of us has a set point weight range (of about 10-20 lbs) that our bodies prefer to stay within. That’s right. Your body has a pre-determined size. If your weight dips below the set point your body has determined for itself, your body will fight back by slowing your metabolism and sending your hunger into overdrive to try to get you back into your body’s preferred weight range. You may feel low in energy, lose your period or sex drive, feel irritable, or any other number of things as your body attempts to conserve energy. Further, if you’re someone who yo-yo diets, this experience may increase in intensity each time your weight goes up and back down.
- Diets make cravings and overeating worse. Because diets shift our focus to what we can’t have, our minds get fixated on those things and our cravings increase. It’s like if I were to say to you, “Don’t, under any circumstances, think about a pink elephant.” You would immediately think of the pink elephant. It’s the same with food when we place certain foods off limits. Eventually we give in and eat the “forbidden foods,” and we do so to excess because we know we are breaking a rule and we’re not sure when we’ll be able to have that food again. It’s this cycle that diet culture uses to convince us that we are “out of control” and “addicted” to certain foods, when in reality, our reaction to restriction is normal and physiological.
- Diets eat up your precious time and energy. Diets require time, energy, and willpower that most of us just don’t have to give without seriously cutting back in other areas of our lives. Dieters often find themselves having to make compromises that make them unhappy. For example, a dieter might obsess over what food they can eat at a party (or choose not to even go to the party so they don’t have to deal with the anxiety) instead of enjoying the party and making memories. What might you have accomplished by now if you had back all the time and energy you have spent in your life pursuing diets that didn’t work?
- Diets aren’t good for your mental health. So many diets claim to be about “health” but are actually harmful. Dieting often leads to a preoccupation with food and our bodies that can easily border on obsession. Dieters who “cheat” on their diets or “fail” are made to believe that they simply didn’t have enough willpower or self-control to stay the course. This mentality that the dieter is to blame instead of the diet leads to increased stress and other negative feelings such as guilt and shame.
- Diets are disempowering. Our bodies are built for survival, and we have everything we need within us to know what to eat, when to eat, and when to stop eating, but diets make us doubt ourselves. Diets teach us to ignore what our bodies are telling us and follow strict external food rules instead. Diets also tell us to put our lives on hold until weight loss happens. They entice us with the idea that our real lives, our happy, successful, and exciting lives, are waiting for us just around the corner once we get thin enough. But the notion that we are not enough as we are right now is a damaging one.
- Diets promote weight stigma. Weight stigma is discrimination or bias based on a person’s weight. Weight stigma is prevalent in our society, and diet culture has heavily influenced that. As a society, we shame and blame people in larger bodies as well as concern troll them (i.e., claim that it’s acceptable for us to shame and blame them in the name of “health”). Diet culture promotes a single acceptable size, claiming that only thin bodies are healthy ones and if you are in a larger body and not pursuing thinness that you are automatically “unhealthy” (a far cry from the truth). This pits bodies against each other and obscures the fact that all bodies are valuable and deserve to be treated with respect.
- Diets can’t fix your life. So many of us believe that if we could just lose weight then __________. Then we could find a partner. Then we could get that promotion. Then we could wear that swimsuit. Then we could love ourselves. The problem is that none of those things have anything to do with food or weight loss, and as a result, the act of dieting and losing weight won’t help us get to the root of our issues. Dieting is so often used as an escape – a way to ignore what’s really going on and blame our bodies for our problems. But all that thinness will bring you is a thin body. You’ll still be left with all of the other stuff to figure out on the other side.
- Diets don’t take into account the details. Diets provide a set of blanket rules that are supposed to work for everyone. But how many things in life do you know that work for literally everyone? You have a unique metabolism, genetics, and a history with food and your body. You have unique tastes, preferences, and desires. Your circumstances change day in and day out, but diets don’t take any of that rich context into the equation. The truth is, there’s no one way of eating that is right for everyone. There’s only the way of eating that is right for you.
If I’m Not Dieting, Then How Will I Know What To Eat?
I understand that the idea of giving up dieting behaviors is scary. Diets are built into the fabric of our society. Entire relationships between women are built around talking about dieting trends, food faux pas, and the desire to lose weight. Some people have been dieting for so long that their own identities are wrapped up in the very act of cycling between different diets, hunting for the holy grail.
Further, ditching diet culture and learning to eat more intuitively isn’t easy. It will require you to take a deep dive into everything you’ve been taught about food and your relationship to it so that you can begin to dismantle all of the lingering rules. You’ll have to start listening to your body – truly listening to it – and if you’ve been ignoring your body’s signals and desires for a long time, that is going to take some troubleshooting. You’ll need to experiment with finding what foods you like to eat and when you like to eat them, and you’ll have to fight the voice in your head telling you that you’d be better off on a diet. But doing this work of getting back in tune with yourself and healing your relationship with food for good will last you a lifetime. And who knows what you might accomplish with all the time and energy you’ll have taken back from the dieting thief. I’m definitely rooting for you!
Need some support? In my free Facebook group for women, we talk about all things intuitive eating, Health At Every Size, women’s wellness, and more, and I do a live Q&A every month. Join the private community HERE. If you want one-on-one help, check out my coaching services.