10 Mar 2021
How the Diet Mentality Prevents Healthy Eating
10 Mar 2021
I think it’s safe to say that most people want to eat healthy. But what I find people struggle with is how to eat healthy. We hear a lot of messages about how to eat healthy: go keto, try intermittent fasting, give weight loss apps a try. Often, by the time I see clients in my office, they’ve tried all these things and more. Yet, these strategies haven’t helped them to reach their health and wellness goals. And, unfortunately, they often blame themselves for that.
My heart goes out to anyone who is blaming themselves for having trouble getting healthy. I have great news for you. It isn’t your fault! The reason why many people fail to reach their goals is because they try to achieve them using diets. Here’s the reality: diets don’t work.
We live in a culture that is saturated with diet messaging, so it’s no surprise that we think dieting is the way to get healthy. The incessant chatter of diet culture gets us set into a diet mentality. A mentality that tells us, “If you could just find the ‘right’ diet, you’d finally reach your goals”. But is that voice correct? As a registered dietitian, I can tell you that it’s totally wrong! And here’s why…
You Become a Professional Dieter
When you buy into the diet mentality and believe the voice that says you have to diet to get healthy, you end up becoming a professional dieter. As a Professional dieter, you might spend a whole lot of time and energy on dieting. You might collect diet books, search the Internet for diet tips, and follow influencers on social media for motivation to stick to your diet. Even when you’re not dieting, you’re thinking about the next diet you’d like to start.
The problem with dieting, however, is that it leads to feelings of deprivation, which results in unhealthy eating behaviours. As a Professional dieter, you may often have a “last supper” before you begin a new diet. This is a feast of favourite foods that you won’t be able to enjoy while dieting. Also, when professional dieters eat a forbidden food while on a diet, you may end up binge-eating that food, because you know tomorrow you will have to go back on your diet. Even when you’re not eating forbidden foods, you might end up overeating “safe” foods to satisfy your cravings.
The diet mentality prioritizes weight loss over health, which ultimately prevents you from achieving your health goals. As a Professional dieter you likely find yourself caught in a vicious cycle: diet, lose weight, overeating/binges, gain weight, diet, etc. Sadly, this cycle causes a lot of people to develop food fears or end up hating food.
Viewing food as the enemy does not lead to health and wellness! The first step towards eating healthy is rejecting the diet mentality. Focus on building sustainable habits that you can keep up for the rest of your life – rather than a few months. Forget the latest diet advice and aim your attention at how different foods make your body feel. Your body has the intuition to tell you what and how much to eat.
Careful Clean Eating
Much to my frustration, I’ve also seen how diet culture has gotten it’s claws into wellness culture. This has manifested itself as the push for “clean eating” in order to be healthy. In this context, the diet voice is telling us we have to be a careful clean eater in order to reach our goals. But, this is just another form of dieting. And it backfires in similar ways to being a professional dieter.
As a Careful clean eater, you may tend to have rigid eating habits. You want to be the “perfect” eater who only eats nutrient-rich foods and shuns foods that are high in fat or sugar. As a careful clean eater you are vigilant about what foods you put into your body. You carefully plan your meals and snacks, have strict rules about how to prepare food (ex: cooking without oils), and scrutinize food labels when grocery shopping. You may often describe a day of eating as “good” or “bad”.
I’m definitely not saying it’s wrong to be nutrition conscious! However, careful clean eaters can be so rigid with their eating habits that it causes their quality of life to decrease. Grocery shopping, cooking, and eating itself becomes stressful. It can also become very time consuming to anguish over the planning and preparation of every meal and snack. Nutrition is important, but it shouldn’t take over every aspect of your life.
In addition, as a careful clean eater, you may often feel that you need to earn the right to eat “junk” foods. The reward for following your food rules is “cheat days”. Often, cheat days involve engaging in binge eating – an eating behaviour that does not contribute to good health. As a careful clean eater, you might also “cave” from time to time and overeat your forbidden foods because the restriction becomes too much, then feel guilt and shame for being “bad”.
The voice of diet culture insists that you have to practice strict eating habits for the sake of health and wellness. However, in truth, careful clean eaters often live in fear of putting on weight if they step a toe outside of the lines. And so we’re back at the issue of viewing food as the enemy, which negatively affects our physical and mental health.
If you reject the diet mentality, you’ll be able to leave the stress and anxiety of careful clean eating behind. Viewing certain foods as forbidden and striving for perfection ultimately leads to unhealthy eating behaviours. Don’t let food rules impact your health and quality of life! Focus on making peace with food and aim for progress instead of perfection. Authentic health comes from self-compassion and patience – not rigidity.
A dietitian can help with rejecting the dieting mentality. Book a free meet and greet with one of our practioners!
-Karissa Giraldi, RD
Tribole, E., & Resch, E. (2020). Intuitive eating: A revolutionary anti-diet approach. New York: St. Martin’s Essentials. pp 32 – 39.
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