Principle 1 – Reject the Diet Mentality
What is dieting? In this context, dieting is basically any form of food restriction or food rules. This includes the use of exercise, medications, supplements etc… which encourage weight loss. Dieting is all about intention – if you’re doing something (or not doing something) with the INTENTION to lose weight (for ANY reason), then you’re dieting. Recognising and admitting this is the most difficult, first step to becoming an intuitive eater. There is no shame in this. We are ALL victims of the diet mentality, and as we start to unpack our dieting history, this become VERY clear!
The diet mentality is the framework of diet culture – there would be no diet culture if we weren’t stuck in the dieting way of thinking. Diet mentality (and diet culture) have us believing a few things which, according to (real) science, are actually untrue. If we’re going to reject the diet mentality, we need to see diet culture for what it really is. We need to get angry and we need to get curious. To help us do this, let’s unpack some common diet culture myths and lies:
1. Dieting leads to (long term) weight loss
What the diet, fitness and health industries have had us believe for a long time is that dieting (aka actively trying to lose and/or maintain a certain weight) is helpful. For the majority of us (especially women), dieting behaviours are an integral part of everyday life. We engage in these behaviours because we believe they are helping us to be either: 1) thinner or 2) healthier (more on this one later). Rejecting the diet mentality requires us to listen to the science – and research shows time and time again that dieting behaviours are unsuccessful in creating weight loss (and health) in over 95% of cases, long term. “Long term” is an important part of this puzzle… very few weight loss studies follow participants beyond 2 years post-diet. And of those studies that have bothered to go as far as 5 years, they have shown there is no benefit to dieting at all. In fact, participants were often worse off on all health markers than before they started. I won’t go into the pathophysiology of dieting here – but suffice to say, diets wreak havoc with our metabolism, they create psychological distress, and more often than not they actually lead to weight GAIN as opposed to loss. Our bodies are not designed to STARVE… in fact they are designed for the absolute opposite. When we try to starve ourselves, only bad things will result in the long term.
2. Losing weight is the only way to get healthy & being over a certain weight is unhealthy
The thin ideal is steeped in diet culture. We have been told (especially in most recent times) that health is equivalent to weight. The fatter, the more unhealthy. We have become petrified of gaining weight thanks to the “obesity epidemic”, and being thin has never been more desirable. Aesthetically, the thin ideal plays a big role in our culture, and while there is a fine line between “good thin” and “too thin” for some people, if we’re honest with ourselves we know that anything other than “thin” of some description is really not the preferred body shape (just look through catalogues, ads and magazines for proof). The problem here is that being thin (or fat) has nothing to do with weight – and again the science proves this. Weight loss has been shown, over and over again, NOT to be mandatory for health. What the diet mentality does do for sure, though, is perpetuate weight stigma and weight bias. And THIS has been proven to result in poorer health outcomes. So when we tease it out, the only health issues associated with being fat are those related to the STIGMA of being fat, not the weight itself. Wow… Health behaviours should be our goal – NOT weight loss, because health is important at every size, and size is a totally useless part of the health equation. We need to stop seeing weight loss as a health behaviour -it is NOT, and this argument is growing old, fast. The next time someone tells you to lose weight for your diabetes or fertility, give them a swift uppercut! Plus, if we are interested in health, then the WORST thing we can do is “weight cycle”. Dieting leads to fluctuations in weight – usually dramatic losses, followed by even greater gains. This causes huge amounts of distress on the body, not to mention our mind!
3. It is possible to actively change (manipulate, manage) our weight
Diet mentality has us telling ourselves that our weight is in our control – that our size is determined by what we eat and how much we move. WRONG AGAIN! We can control our weight for a short time, yes. But it is short-lived because ultimately our weight is determined by a whole range of things we simply can’t control all the time (i.e. genetics, accessibility, socioeconomic status…). What’s really important to remember here is that even when we do lose the weight we want to lose, it is often an even greater struggle to maintain this new weight and “keep the weight off”. If we are in a constant battle with our body to sit at a certain weight, chances are THAT weight is not actually where your body wants to naturally sit.
4. Health is only about the “physical” – psychological health (including our relationship with food), doesn’t matter
I could speak about the psychological effects of dieting all day – so all I am going to say here is: dieting crushes the soul. It makes us question who we are, it robs us of our intuition and ability to trust our own bodies, and for WAY too many people, it is the catalyst for the development of eating disorders (which are the mental illness with the highest mortality rate). So, when we are committed to the diet mentality, we are actively stopping ourselves from being free, happy, and able to listen to our own bodies. This is a recipe for psychological disaster. We’re forcing ourselves to live by restrictive rules, and we’re denying ourselves of life’s simple pleasures. Dieting interferes with relationships, social outcomes, body image, and our views of ourselves. If we fail at a diet, we see ourselves as failures on all levels of life, and self-esteem and self-compassion starts to spiral downward at a rate of knots.
So what steps can we take to start rejecting the diet mentality?
- Explore YOUR personal beliefs about weight, health, dieting, and thinness. What are your thoughts about fat/larger bodies? Can you recognise any bias here?
- Delve into your family history when it comes to weight loss, dieting and body size/shape. What were you told? What did you see? What did you grow up believing (about yourself and/or others?).
- Think of your dieting history. Do some journalling around this and really cast your mind back… what age were you when you started dieting? How long did these diets last? What was the outcome? How did this experience make you feel?
- Think about how dieting does or has interfered with your life. Consider emotional, physical, social and behavioural impacts. How does dieting change you and what you do?
- What dieting tools do you/have you used? Be honest here – really think about your food rules, even the seemingly “healthy” ones. This can be a hard exercise to do, but give it a go and reach out if you’re unsure!