Unconscious Dieting

Diets have a 95% fail rate, meaning that 95% of dieters will regain lost weight within 1-5 years. With such a poor prognosis, it’s curious why we continue to chase it.  What makes the next diet or the next attempt different?  Most people blame their lack of “success” on poor willpower or self-control, but when so many others are ending up in the same place, it’s obvious there is much more to that story.  There is a big difference between being mindfully aware and feeling good about what and how much you choose to eat versus white knuckling the physical and emotional deprivation caused by food restriction.  

The good news is that more and more people are realizing that traditional dieting is futile.  However, the diet mentality is hard to shake and continues to be fueled by new and trendy “lifestyle changes” which are really just lifetime diets.  Because we are inundated with nutrition information, meal plans and food manipulation techniques constantly, dieting has become socially acceptable.  It starts to feel like if you aren’t doing it, you are missing out.  You hear or see friends and family talking or sharing their new meal plans or weight loss techniques and could easily feel like you must do what everyone else is doing. In fact, it kind of reminds me of this quote by Brene Brown:

Don’t let FOMO kill your MOJO. The “Fear Of Missing Out” is what happens when scarcity slams into shame. FOMO lures us out of our integrity with whispers about what we could or should be doing. FOMO’s favorite weapon is comparison. It kills gratitude and replaces it with “not enough”. We answer FOMO’s call by saying YES when we mean NO. We abandon our path and our boundaries and those precious adventures that hold meaning for us so we can prove that we aren’t missing out.
— Brene Brown

My favorite analogy for what happens when we diet (and I use the word diet to describe any sort of food manipulation), comes from an experience shared by Dr. Daniel Siegel in his book The Mindful Brain.  He shares an experience he had at a meditation retreat.  He and his colleagues were in a yoga class, moving through different balancing poses. He found that when he focused on the teacher or other students in the room while trying to balance in a pose, he would always topple over.  However, if he focused on a point directly ahead of him, or at himself in the mirror, he was able to stay centered and balanced.  

As a yoga lover and Intuitive Eating professional, this story rang true to me on many levels.  Anytime you are focused on what or how other people are eating or what or how a diet tells you to eat, you are unconsciously dieting. Please do not try to tell me that this or that meal plan customizes your points or calories or portions.  That’s EXACTLY how they make it appear to not be a diet and therefore continue to feed the subconscious diet mentality, guilt or shame around “cheating”, the belief that you are broken and need fixing, and the idea that you cannot trust yourself around food or your body to know exactly how to handle food and what do with it (you can and it does).  

What I’m trying to do is give you full permission to totally and completely challenge EVERYTHING that the dieting industry or your own dieting experience has taught you.  This is actually the very first step toward Intuitive Eating.  You must “Reject the Diet Mentality” before regaining self-trust, becoming a confident and competent eater and feeling empowered to make food decisions that honor you. You cannot hold onto past beliefs or past behaviors around dieting or food anxiety while attempting to become an intuitive eater, to make peace with food or solve disordered eating thoughts or behaviors.

And one final note: many people wonder what is so wrong with dieting or even unconscious dieting.  I mean, everyone does it so what’s the big deal?  “The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it.” (Henry David Thoreau)  Don’t lose your life to numbers and perfectly calculated nutrition.  I invite you to nourish your body and spirit so you can make your life about something more than what you eat, what you weigh or how you look in a swimsuit.  I promise, at the end of it all, I think you’ll be glad you did.  

Emily Fonnesbeck RD, CD