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Ditch the Diet Mentality

The most challenging and most essential principle of intuitive eating is getting rid of the diet mentality—even in its less-obvious forms.

I recommend completing this module over the course of a week, taking some time to review the material a couple of times, and to complete the journal exercises each day.

Start by listening to the audio content below, and then scroll down to review the key points and journal exercises. 

 

Audio: ditching the diet mentality

 

Module 2 Notes

One of the most important things you can do in your quest to make peace with food is to reject the diet mentality.

Diets don't work and actively cause harm.

You probably already know diets don't work (which is why you're trying to learn intuitive eating!). You're not alone; millions of people have been disappointed by diets:

Between 95 and 99.999 percent of diets fail, and most people gain back even more weight than they lost on diets.  

The 0.001 to 5 percent of people who do maintain significant weight loss long-term (for more than five years) have many disordered behaviors, including obsessive thoughts about food, weight, and exercise.

In other words, the very small percentage of people who maintain deliberate weight loss long-term do so only at the expense of their mental health.

This is consistent with other research showing that dieting dramatically increases the risk of developing an eating disorder.

Dieting also drives down your metabolism, which is your body's natural response to restrictive eating.

This mechanism evolved to keep us safe during times of famine. The human race would have died out long ago if we didn't have this built-in protection from starvation!

In addition, chronic dieting leads to weight cycling, which is associated with cardiovascular disease, blood sugar abnormalities, and increased mortality risk.

(Click image to download PDF)

(Click image to download PDF)

The diet mentality is sneaky.

Even when you’ve accepted that diets don't work, the diet mentality can still linger in subtle ways. For example:

  • When you catch yourself following rules about how you "should" eat, or trying to use "willpower" to counter your natural desires, you're engaging in diet-mentality thinking.
  • When you find yourself reflexively rebelling against these mental "shoulds" rather than tuning in to what you truly want, that's the diet mentality, too!
  • When you find yourself thinking "I'm such a failure!" for eating a certain way—you guessed it, diet mentality!  

 

Journal Exercise 1: How are you holding on?

Start by writing down all the ways—big and small—that you’re still holding on to the diet mentality.

In addition to the ways mentioned above, here are some examples of specific thoughts you might notice:

  • A lingering hope that there’s one magic diet out there that would solve all your problems, and you just haven’t found it yet.
  • A sense that you’ll be able to try intuitive eating once you’ve lost weight on a diet, and then you can use intuitive eating to “maintain.” This is what the book Intuitive Eating's authors Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch call "the one-last-diet trap."
  • A feeling that you can accept your hunger, fullness, and desires up to a point, but there are some times when these things are still unacceptable or “wrong.”
  • What other thoughts can you identify?

These thoughts are so understandable, given the diet-obsessed world we live in—so give yourself some compassion as you do this exercise, while acknowledging that these thoughts are also an obstacle standing between you and true freedom.

When you're finished, look at the thoughts you’ve written down.

Now try writing back to each of those thoughts from a non-diet mentality, to firmly but compassionately refute the diet-based thoughts.

If it’s hard to come up with responses, think about what you would tell a friend in the same situation—someone you loved who was struggling with self-judgment about food and their body.

The best available science to date tells us that pursuing weight loss doesn't work--as in *doesn't* lead to sustainable weight loss, and actually makes most people GAIN weight in the long run. More importantly, this cycle actually makes us LESS healthy than if we just accepted our weight and learned to care for our bodies in gentle ways. If you're a health professional, you owe it to your patients and clients to dig into the literature on #IntuitiveEating and #HAES, and to stop recommending weight loss (including recommending intuitive eating for weight loss!!). And if you've ever been told you need to lose weight "for your health," or if you're trying to lose weight for any other reason, you owe it to *yourself* to explore why this isn't true. Full recovery from chronic dieting and #eatingdisorders is absolutely possible--but you MUST let go of the diet mentality to get there. (Thank you to Evelyn Tribole, co-author of Intuitive Eating and this week's guest on Food Psych, for this great quote! And thanks to @jennifer_lynne24 for capturing it 😄 For more on HAES, body positivity, intuitive eating, and eating disorder recovery, check out Food Psych on your favorite podcast provider.) #haes #intuitiveeating #edrecovery #antidietproject #antidiet #riotsnotdiets #effyourbeautystandards #losehatenotweight #nourishnotpunish #recoverywarriors #balancednotclean #foodisfuel #prorecovery #bodyposi #bodypositive #bopo #foodpsychpod #foodpsych

A photo posted by Christy Harrison, MPH, RD, CDN (@chr1styharrison) on

Try to draw upon everything you already know about wellness and body positivity (including what you've gleaned from listening to the Food Psych interviews above), tapping into your own intuition and self-compassion.

Think of this as a dialogue between your disordered self (the part that’s still stuck in the diet mentality) and your healthy self or intuition (the part that wants you to be happy and free from pain).

The more you can strengthen your intuition and turn up the volume on its voice, the more you’ll be able to start pushing back against the diet-mentality thoughts consistently, whenever they arise.     

For the three example thoughts mentioned above, here are some helpful responses:

  • There is no magic diet that you haven’t found. The diet industry is a massive, $60-billion operation; countless diets have come and gone over the decades, and the average woman has tried dozens of diets in her lifetime. If *any* diet actually worked, everyone would have flocked to that diet by now, and the rest of the industry would have ceased to exist. Clearly that’s not the case.
  • “One more diet” won’t change your body permanently, and intuitive eating won’t help you “maintain” weight lost through dieting. Diets are actually the best way to gain weight in the long run, because they tell your body it’s starving, drive down your metabolic rate, and make you store more fat to protect against the next famine.
    • Intuitive eating helps your body get to its biologically appropriate weight range (sometimes called a “set point,” but really more like a set range that naturally fluctuates a bit).
    • So if you go on a diet, lose weight, and then start eating intuitively, you’ll gain back however much weight you need to reach your body’s set range—and you may even overshoot that range temporarily because you’d previously been on a diet. So just say no to that one last diet.
  • Your genuine hunger, fullness, and desires for food are never “wrong.” The only things that are wrong are the disordered thoughts, and those can sometimes affect your hunger, fullness, and desires in uncomfortable ways:
    • For example, when you’ve restricted yourself from certain foods (or food in general), you may feel unable to stop eating particular foods (or all foods) once you start.
    • This doesn’t mean you’re “addicted to food” or that your desires for particular foods are leading you astray; it just means your body is reacting to the deprivation you’ve imposed on it.
    • The only way out of that cycle is to nourish yourself well by eating adequate amounts of food at regular intervals (not skimping or delaying meals and snacks), and to give yourself unconditional permission to eat anything you desire, including your feared foods.

 

Practice, Practice, Practice

In the weeks to come, continue to notice your thoughts, and use the "disordered self / healthy self" dialogue anytime a diet-mentality thought comes to mind. 

If you do ONE journal exercise in this course, make it this one. This is the exercise that my one-on-one clients consistently report brings them the most transformation between sessions.

Diet-mentality thoughts have been part of the "background noise" in your mind for so long that you probably don't have much experience even noticing them—but once you notice them, you can start to separate from them. Then you'll be empowered to change.       

These positive changes can take a lot of practice to master, so be compassionate with yourself in the process. It's totally normal to experience sadness, frustration, or other emotions when you begin challenging these long-held beliefs. 

Again, diet-mentality thoughts are SO understandable in the diet-obsessed culture we live in, and you're SO not alone in having them.

Dieting likely also met many emotional needs for you in the past, such as by making you feel connected to others (like family, friends, and loved ones) who were dieting, or by giving you a sense of structure and a goal to strive for.  

So don't beat yourself up when you notice diet-mentality thoughts; simply recognize that they are no longer serving you, and try to substitute new thoughts that will serve you.    

If you find efforts to challenge the diet mentality to be particularly overwhelming or distressing, enlist support from friends, family, or a mental health professional to help you work through your reactions.      

With time and commitment, you can absolutely get to a place where your body’s cues feel deeply right, not wrong or broken.

 

JOURNAL EXERCISE 2: What Diets Have Taken from You

In your journal, reflect on how dieting has led you astray. Think about all the things diets have taken from you, and write down any specific examples that come to mind in the following areas:

  • Time you could have spent on pursuits or hobbies that nourished you
  • Time you could have spent connecting with friends, family, or loved ones
  • Time you could have spent pursuing career goals
  • An authentic and intuitive connection to your body
  • A healthy relationship with food (free from overeating, bingeing, restricting, or other negative eating behaviors) 
  • Money you've spent on diet products or programs
  • Self-esteem and a sense of efficacy in your own life
  • ...And any other areas you can think of

Also be sure to check out the Monthly Q&A podcast for the course, particularly the episode from 6/29/16, to hear my answers to other people's questions about dealing with the diet mentality. These episodes may help the ideas resonate for you in a new way—and you can ask your own questions, too!

 

FURTHER VIEWING

The Association for Size Diversity and Health made this great video illustrating why there's actually no scientific evidence to equate body size with health.

 

Journal Exercise 3: Post-Lesson Reflection

In your journal, reflect on what you learned in this module.

  • Are there particular aspects of giving up the diet mentality that seem more challenging for you than others?
  • Which thoughts will you need to continue to work on as the course goes on?
  • Which thoughts (if any) do you think will be fairly easy to refute, now that you're aware of them?
  • How will giving up the diet mentality help you move closer to your goals and intentions?

 

Module Evaluation

Please provide your feedback to help us improve this module.

1. This module helped me understand why diets are harmful.
2. This module gave me practical tools to push back against the diet mentality.
3. This module helped me feel more compassionate toward myself for my struggles with dieting.
4. This module was easy to follow and understand.

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