Generally speaking, we’ve rejected the idea of dieting. Most have heard the research enough or have been on enough diets to believe the fact that dieting is futile. We know the only substantiated claim on dieting is that it actually causes weight gain, not weight loss. There is literally no such thing as a good, successful or effective diet - it’s all a big oxymoron.
The diet industry has heard all this too. In order to stay in business, it’s dropped the word “diet” and substituted for words and statements like “life-style change”, “sustainable program”, “healthy eating plan” or “clean eating”. Essentially dieting has gotten a face lift; a really sneaky, seductive and alluring face lift. What makes it so darn appealing is that the promises are less about weight loss now and more about helping you become fixed, less broken, more whole, more clean, more YOU. They’ve coopted the non-diet message and cheapened it by selling you a counterfeit version, still promising this peace with food and your body that you probably really, really, really want.
So when this diet faking to not be a diet fails you, now you really feel like you’ve hit rock bottom. This is the point where a person might trying ANYTHING, like EVEN Intuitive Eating (IE). What’s there to lose right? And then you find out the first principle of IE is “Reject the Diet Mentality” and you start to better understand what a diet actually is and what it isn’t.
Here’s what it is:
- It’s restrictive - cutting out foods, food groups and ingredients. The restriction could also come in the form of dictating food combinations, how often you can have a food or what time of day you can or can’t eat.
- It tells you exactly what to or what not to eat and how much of it you can have.
- It promises really dramatic or miraculous results like “cure all inflammation!”, “heal your gut!” or “dramatic weight loss!”.
- It’s a bunch of pseudoscience explained in really complex terms so you feel like they are smart and know how to help you (but really just want your money and loyalty).
- It requires counting and numbers - macros, grams, calories, hours until you can eat again, etc.
- It causes you to avoid social situations because of food rules. You can’t go out to eat, travel or have someone else cook for you. Basically your life has to fit into your food rather than food fitting into your life. Your focus and attention everyday is on how to manage your food rather than building a meaningful life.
- It’s emotionally distressing. It’s totally true - dieters report higher anxiety scores and more depressive symptoms than non-dieters. You are much less resilient, adaptable and flexible to life when you are rigid and militant with food.
- It encourages allegiance to outside rules instead of encouraging trust with your own ability to self-moderate. It tells you that you are powerless over food and that you can’t be trusted. In essence it makes you dependent rather than independent and self-directed. In my opinion, that's the saddest casualty of dieting.
- It encourages a lot of supplements, meal replacements, pills or powders to add to meals and snacks or to replace them. Usually they are the ones selling them to you too (HUGE red flag).
- It’s not sustainable. Do you really not want to eat carbs for the rest of your life? Or go without a treat or a burger? If you say no, it’s not because you don’t have enough willpower or self-control. It’s because you’re human and want to live a normal life. That’s totally OK.
Here what it’s not: Basically the opposite of everything above. It’s not a way to make peace with food or your body. Healing from disordered eating and poor body image is an inside job. No one can give you a plan for how to do that, but you can have a compassionate professional help you connect with yourself and your natural ability to respect and care for yourself. It’s about the food, but yet it’s TOTALLY NOT ABOUT THE FOOD. Disordered eating is an adaptive response to a wide variety of triggers. Nutrition therapy helps you uncover why you do what you do and allows you to adopt behaviors that are more effective and supportive.
Now that we’re clear on diets, I want to give you links to some fantastic reviews about popular diets from some of my fellow dietitians. If you’re still struggling with rejecting the diet mentality, hopefully this can give you objective data to appeal to logic and help you reason your way out of any allure to try them.
Does Intermittent Fasting Work? Could Going Without Do More For Your Health? Via Lisa Rutledge, RDN
Low Carb or Healthy Carb? via Kelly Jones, RDN
Is the Ketogenic Diet Good For Runners and Triathletes? via Chrissy Carroll, RDN
My Thoughts On The Ketogenic Diet via Alex Caspero, RDN
The Ketogenic Diet and Why I Don’t Recommend It via Kim Melton, RDN
Why Whole 30 Won’t Help You Heal Your Relationship With Food via Alex Caspero, RDN
Whole 30: A Lesson In Extremes via Abby Langer, RDN
The Alkaline Diet – A Mockery Of Basic Physiology via Abby Langer, RDN
You may by hearing a lot of positive things about these diets and hopefully these reviews provide perspective and a reasonable second opinion. There is always something behind a diet and don't be afraid of a little healthy cynicism.
Emily Fonnesbeck RD, CD