Moving beyond diets

Diets may not lead to eating disorders in most people (because most people, fortunately, are not predisposed to developing eating disorders), but they can still lead to a really screwed up relationship with food, our bodies and our emotions.

First of all, I’d like to point out that “diet” is a funny word. To wit:

I’m of course not referring to the first noun. Notice the word “restrict” in the other two definitions. Diets are about restriction, which leads to feelings of deprivation. The deprivation often reaches beyond feelings to affect the body physically. Eventually, either body or mind rebels, the diet fails, and the weight returns. (Notice I did not say that the dieter fails.) This is why diets don’t work. Diets are:

  • Unkind (think self-flagellation)
  • All-or-nothing (you’re on a diet or off a diet)
  • Focused on numbers (weight, body measurements)
  • Weight judgmental (certain weights are “good” or “bad”)
  • Based on regimented eating of predetermined food portions
  • Built on black and white thinking (good foods, bad foods)
  • Stripped of joy (other than the fleeting thrill of temporary initial weight loss)
  • Dismissive of our body’s cues about what, when and how much to eat
  • Paired with excessive or tedious exercise regimes for the purpose of “burning calories”

What do you get for all that? Short-term results, at best. Good thing there is another path to take, the “non-diet” or “health at every size” approach. This approach is:

  • Kind (think self-care)
  • Sustainable (building healthy habits that you are happy to follow for life)
  • Focused on health (particularly day-to-day energy and well-being)
  • Weight neutral (weight has no moral value)
  • Based on intuitive and mindful eating
  • Built on a healthy balance of nutrition and indulgence (no foods are off limits)
  • Full of joy (healthy, nourishing, delicious food and optimal day-to-day health)
  • Welcoming of the body’s wisdom (and helping us learn to trust it)
  • Paired with enjoyable movement that makes our mind and body feel good

If diets don’t work (95-98 percent of dieters regain all lost pounds, if not more, within 1 to 5 years), and they make us feel bad about ourselves, why do Americans spend $65 billion each year on diet plans and products? Because after a while, we become so out of touch with our bodies, and our natural hunger and satiety cues, that we don’t know what or when or how much to eat unless someone tells us.

Instead of trying one diet after another, sure that “this one is the one,” maybe it’s time to dig deep, let our bodies tell us what they need, and stop the diet madness.

To be continued in future posts.