Reject – to dismiss as inadequate, inappropriate, or failing to meet standards or satisfy tastes
That definition seems about right for diet culture and diet mentality. My hope is that by the end of reading this blog post, you will have a better understanding of this key principle of Intuitive Eating – Reject the Diet Mentality.
I firmly believe that this is the first principle for a reason. For anyone to begin on the path of recovering from dieting and embracing intuitive eating, you have to open your eyes to the misinformation and lies that you have been missing all along. Rejecting the Diet Mentality is a process, layered like an onion. It is NOT a one and done thing. As you read this, take the time to let it sink in. Notice diet culture and your own diet mentality. Once you start… like Pringles… you can’t stop! You’ll start to notice it everywhere. And you’ll wonder – Why didn’t I see this before? Have patience with yourself and others who aren’t as aware as you are. Planting seeds of knowledge in yourself and others in the name of the game. They’ll come around, just like you have.
So… let’s get started! First things first – Diet Culture!!
Culture – the ideas, customs, and social behavior of a particular people or society.
So then, diet culture is a system of beliefs, customs, messages and behaviors, that places value and focus on weight, shape and size over and above health and well-being.
Diet culture has hammered into us that our weight and size is the ULTIMATE measure of our worth as a human being.
Diet culture has also conditioned us to believe that weight and size are a direct indicator of our health. And that reaching a state of ‘good health’ is only about our weight, instead of a complex blend of our emotional, physical, spiritual, social and stress health.
To achieve that status of a worthy, healthy human, diet culture has taught us a very narrow idea of what is considered the ‘correct’ way to eat. How often do you hear yourself talking about a “good” food or “bad” food? How often have you heard yourself or someone else say “I was so GOOD today and ate really good?” Diet culture teaches us to internalize the supposed morality of the foods, in turn we take on their value. WE become GOOD or BAD as a result.
So what does this all mean for us? Does any of this sound like every day conversation to you? Well, this means that diet culture has become really hard to see. We just exist in it. The messages, beliefs, dialogue, values and expectations have become our new normal. They have become facts. They have become our ‘truth’.
It is normal for people:
- to comment on weight loss.
- to be constantly pursuing weight loss.
- for new moms to fixate on ‘getting their body back’ as soon as they give birth and be praised for doing so
- for any medical ailment, injury or pain to be explained away by a higher than “ideal” weight, therefore making weight loss the prescription and cure
- to be constantly dissatisfied and even hate our bodies,
- to fixate on this hope that they can “fix” their bodies
All of these aspects of diet culture mean that we are constantly spending precious time, energy and “brain juice” focused on getting smaller. And the dieting cycle continues – or the dieter’s dilemma.
So, how does all of this personally affect you? This is where diet mentality comes in. Diet Mentality is how you personally internalize Diet Culture and let it change how you think about yourself. This will look different for everyone. When I coach clients we go through a list of dieting and the different ways it can show up. I can’t tell you how many clients start out saying that they’re not dieting – “It’s just a lifestyle.” Well, I hate to break it to you… But if you’re choosing to let external sources tell you when, what and how much to eat – you’re on a diet.
For me this looked like:
- Tracking (MyFitness Pal, weight loss challenges, macro counting, etc)
- Over-exercising, regardless of injury, because I had to stick to a schedule
- A hyper-focus on the scale
- Letting the scale’s movement up and down dictate how I felt about myself
- Feeling like a success if I got smaller and feeling like a failure if I did not
- Telling everyone that I was making ‘lifestyle changes’ to ‘get healthy’, but what this really looked like in my heart-of-hearts was seeing a lower number on the scales
I could go on for quite awhile. But I think you get the idea. I’m certain that some of this list resonates with you. I’m also certain that you have your own additions to this list. I know that I’m not unique. That’s the tricky part about diet culture and diet mentality. It is so NORMAL, that if you DON’T do any of this, you’re in the minority. But, that is why I do what I do… spreading the seeds of change. There is so much to do and so much new information to share!!
My biggest hope is that as you open your eyes to this, you are starting to become more aware, and frankly angry to this. This is where REJECTING the Diet Mentality and Diet Culture comes in.
Once you know that this isn’t for you, what can you do?
Evelyn Tribole talks about a Dieting Void. When you stop looking to external sources to tell you what, when and how to eat, it can be scary to try and figure it out on your own. It’s a lot like learning how to swim.
The feeling of being surrounded by water can be terrifying at first to the novice swimmer, especially when totally submerged. Similarly being surrounded by food can be terrifying to the chronic dieter, who is learning how to eat again. But you will not learn how to swim merely by standing at the edge of the pool (even while believing that learning how to swim is a good thing) First you being by getting your feet wet and learning how to breathe in the water. Eventually you will put your head in the water when you are ready – and you get more comfortable. – not out of control.
Once you step into the water and start this work, that is where the other principles come into play. You will learn how to make choices based on your own hunger and fullness cues. You’ll learn about satisfaction. You’ll learn how you want to eat again. Don’t worry, it’ll all come back. But it is a process. So have patience and don’t be surprised by the Diet Mentality thoughts that creep back in. Diet culture is everywhere and it can be hard to fight day in and day out. I still struggle at times. But I recognize the messages, feel the feels and move on.
A few tips for moving forward:
1. Recognize the futility of dieting by exploring your history with dieting. (I have a worksheet that I work through with clients and it is an eye-opening exercise to see how futile diets have been in the past)
Spend at least 15 minutes to create a timeline of diets you’ve been on. Assess how much of your life has been spent on/off diets. As you create your timeline, ask yourself:
- How much time and money has been spent?
- Did any diet actually give you what you wanted?
- Any impact on self-esteem?
- How did you feel on the diet?
- How did you feel around food?
- How often did nutrition facts come before enjoyment?
- Any impact on social life or relationships?
Reflect on how diets have served you (or not served you) and ask yourself, why would I choose to continue to do the same thing over and over, yet expect different results? How much of my life do I want to spend obsessing over food and my body? Am I doing this because I love my body or hate my body? Am I more valuable if I take up less space?
2. Become aware of diet mentality traits and thinking.
Some common words or phrases that can play in a dieter’s mind are: willpower, obedience, failing, good, bad, cheat day, control, guilt, shame, calories, fattening, skinny, clean, and junk.
3. Replace the scale with self-compassion.
As hard as it might be, stop weighing yourself. Start with going a few days, then a few weeks… then just stop. It’s amazing how freeing it is to let go of it. Replace those “goals” with goals to improve the way you talk to yourself. Notice your thoughts and check-in with the source. How can you work toward neutral body thoughts, and then eventually get to positive thoughts? What affirmations can you use to quickly put yourself into a place of love and acceptance for who you are, right now?
Ok, this is a lot of information, but it is all so important. I could keep going, but I’ll save it for another post. Just remember, patience and keep going. You’ll have good days and bad days. But once you are free of dieting, going back is like putting on a weighted vest. Once you’re free, you don’t want to be weighed down again!
This is the first in my series Intuitive Eating 101. It’s time to really understand what it is and how to implement it into your life!
Interested in more? Don’t wait! It’s time to get started! Click here to set up a 1:1 free introductory coaching session.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
I’m a certified Intuitive Eating Counselor and NASM Certified Personal Trainer, and the owner and creator of Spendlove Coaching.
My own wellness journey led me to getting my Master’s Degree in Health and Wellness Coaching from Creighton University – Go Blujays!
I help my clients discover that they are the experts of themselves. Using the tools learned inside my program and during coaching sessions, clients learn how to shift their mindset, taking back the power they have lost to dieting and diet culture