“Ditch the Diets!!” or my fave “JUST Ditch the Diets!”
What is wrong here? I bet you can tell that I’m going on a rave again……#sorrynotsorry
I’m a HUGE fan of the Non Diet Approach to health and wellbeing, aiming for more ‘moderation’ and ‘balance’ as defined by their meaning to each unique individual. It’s just that lately I’ve been noticing a deluge of (often very well-intentioned) people inviting their posse to “just ditch the diet!” It sounds fantastic in theory, and I notice lots of those posts are accompanied by these mysterious little creatures/icons high fiving, thumbs upp-ing and blowing those cute little kisses in response to this phrase. Awwww…….*warm fuzzy feeling* . Read More
BUT it also leaves me…….cringeing somehow? I often wonder how much the poster truly understands about the struggles of people who diet, who are disconnected from food & eating, who detest their bodies. It’s like saying “love your body!” or “ditch the scales!” And it just sends me to the wine bottle when people specifically promote giving up dieting as a way to lose weight. Note: You. Have. Missed. The. Point!! Serious *face palm*
It’s well respected that letting go of strict rules is a necessary part of healing the relationship with food and body. It makes total sense, but is in fact a huge challenge. It can feel uneasy or shaky, scary, frightening. And it also makes sense to feel this way in the face of our current culture, which “normalises” the cutting out of foods, or food groups and applauds dietary control as being “committed” or “disciplined.” Oh dear.
Letting go of strict rules is a necessary part of healing the relationship with food and body, but….
I’ll invite you to imagine this scenario….. 2 people are standing on opposite sides of a canyon, having this conversation:
Peep 1: “Helloooooooo????”
Peep 2: “Helloooooooo!!!!”
Peep 1: “How can I help yooou?”
Peep 2: “I want to eat naturally and normally, but I’ve dieting for soooooo long!”
Peep 1: ““Aha! I know what you can do! Just ditch the diet!”
Peep 2: “Whaaaaaaat?? I don’t understand???”
Peep “I said, just ditch the diet! You know……eat foods in moderation, eat when you’re hungry, stop when you’re full! Go on, jump!”
Peep 2 “WTFaaaaaaaaaaarrrrrk!”
Peep 1 is making some great suggestions. But he/she is making something quite complex sounds quite simple. Peep 2 wants to trust Peep 1 it’s just that Peep 2 has been dieting for many years, and really struggles to feel confident about herself and trust her food choices. She doesn’t really know what moderation is anymore, and has no concept of her hunger and fullness signals. There is also a certain euphoria that comes about with the decision to cut out foods and then there’s the admiration that comes with weight loss! The shame that emerges when she just can’t hang on anymore is terrible, but she’s not sure what else to do. She’s tried “not dieting” but then ends up eating anything and everything, so if that’s “ditch the diet” she says “talk to the hand mofo!”
So let’s slow this down a little…….when we say “ditch the diet”, it’s really describing an end-point, rather than the (very difficult) process of moving away from rules and restrictions, to total freedom with food and eating. It’s also telling people what NOT to do, rather than what TO do……and if there are no (helpful and substantial) ideas about what TO do instead, it can be a source of enormous frustration for the people who need to hear this message the most.
In order to leave the perceived safety of dieting behind, trust needs to be built. Trust in our own inner voice, and inner wisdom whilst building up resilience against outside messages which can derail efforts towards more balanced eating patterns. It takes time. My experience with my clients is that, at first, people report listening to what they need and feel like as unnerving, different and ….weird? That’s to be expected – at first. However, over time things settle into something more natural, more instinctive and more intuitive. The truth is that there is no-one else who can know what you need better than you. The only kind of nutrition self care that makes sense is the one that you develop for yourself.
In order to leave the perceived safety of dieting behind, trust needs to be built
The reality is that we live in a world in which it’s hard for people to turn away from the “dream body” and the “dream life” that the body will bring. It takes a hell of a lot of courage. And time, patience & persistence. There are no promises with peaceful eating – no golden goose, no magic life, no dream body. BUT, there is way much more in store……a brain that is free to pay attention to the things in life that are truly important. A body that is settled, and steady. A self that can be trusted, that can be relied upon, that can GET SOME SERIOUS SHIT DONE.
There is discomfort either way. Stick with the diets, and miss out on a whole lotta living. Move away from diets and rules, and it can feel like stepping out into the great unknown (at first). Developing the skills to tolerate the inevitable anxiety that arises when things are different, or feel different, is a life-long skill that can equip you to weather the tides of life. You already have the knowledge and wisdom to take care of yourself. Plus, hello! You are human, and part of being human is not always getting it right….welcome 🙂
So, what is my suggestion about what you can do instead of just “ditching the diet?” In all honesty, the way out of diet-land is very different for everyone, although there are probably some common strategies that can be helpful. These may include introducing a little more flexibility within your acceptable food variety, gradually introducing foods (with support) that you’ve been avoiding, developing awareness of your hunger and fullness cues, eating with others (rather than alone), expanding recipe selection and exploring fears around letting go of dieting. And if you’re totally confused about what “normal” eating might look like, I give this homework to my clients (who give me the feedback that it can be really helpful)……imagine a friend is coming to stay that eats normally. What would you buy and prepare for them? Aim to leave any judgements about the food to the side for a sec, as you just consider what might constitute a “normal” meal.
Another suggestion is that you see a Non Diet Dietitian (you can look for one HERE). These are eating specialists that can help you start from where you are NOW, and support you to find ways forward out of diet-land. They won’t judge you, won’t weigh you, and will make what is a tough journey an authentic one. And honestly, that’s what it’s all about……