Everyone knows that diets fail about 95% of the time. If you don't know it statistically, you've probably experienced it personally - that crushing weight rebound after the initial euphoria of weight loss.
The fact that dieting sets people up to fail is spreading, and old school diet programs such as Weight Watchers and Jenny Craig are becoming less popular.
FIST PUMPS! The old school dieting industry is on the decline! This is indeed cause for celebration.
But whilst I hear plenty of people declaring "I've given up dieting," a closer look at their eating habits and food beliefs says otherwise. They may no longer be doing weekly-weigh-ins or counting calories, but the dieting thoughts remain.
- "x food is better than y food"
- " I must avoid gluten / sugar / carbs / wheat / legumes if I want to be lean"
- " I need to do my 60 minute exercise session no matter how tired I am - and make that 90 minutes if I've eaten too much" (whatever too much is deemed to be)
- "I need to fill up on salad at the start of every meal so I don't eat too much"
- "No eating after 6pm"
- "If it's not organic / clean / paleo, it's not good for me"
- "I need to stick to my macros or else I'll lose muscle definition"
- "If I don't watch my food intake, my weight - and I - will be out of control"
Unfortunately, thoughts like these almost always translate into diet-like behaviours.
Dieting BEHAVIOURS that look something like this:
- You're using an entire carton of eggs and half a coconut plantation to make one weird-tasting paleo birthday cake... even if it's for a non-paleo friend. Because you can no longer conceptualise buying normal flour and normal sugar for any reason - those foods are just wrong.
- You're smashing out your 1.5 hour Crossfit regime (or power walk, or hot yoga class, or whatever) even if you're exhausted because you "just won't feel good" (i.e. you will feel anxious and fearful as fuck) if you skip it.
- You're convinced those mild tummy pains are without any shadow of a doubt due to the muesli slice you were forced to eat from a cafe that wasn't gluten free - not because you're chronically underfed and hungry or anything...
- Ditto those weird skin rashes, constant feelings of coldness, vaginal thrush, fatigue, and water retention you've been noticing lately - you put any undesirable physical symptom down to eating the wrong food, justifying further food restriction. (As a side note, ALL of these symptoms can be the result of a depressed immune response resulting from chronic dietary restriction and/or under eating).
- You can't possibly eat out with friends and family without meticulously checking the online menu first - and you usually end up saying no to going out because "you've already eaten a huge meal."
You might declare you're not dieting, and that you're only watching your food for health reasons. But sister, don't kid yourself. YOU. ARE. DIETING.
How to know if you're dieting
This applies whether you want to look lean, fit, muscular, and under a certain weight...
... or just plain thin and under a certain weight.
If you're eating in such a way so as to maintain or achieve a certain weight, this is a diet.
And if you're dieting, i.e. you've got dieting thoughts and are acting out the dieting behaviours that follow, you will suffer the physical, mental, and emotional side effects of dieting.
11 modern reincarnations of dieting
Here are 11 examples of "I'm not dieting"-dieting, although there are more:
- Limiting carbohydrates due to fear of gaining weight. Whether it's refined sugar, pasta bread and more complex carbohydrates, or all carbs including most fruits (this is really dangerous), people continue to restrict carbs despite claiming to know how important this form of fuel is.
- Eating only "clean" foods because these are seen as the only safe foods. This usually entails sticking to low calorie foods: high water foods such as vegetables and fruit, and protein foods.
- Eating only at certain times of the day, whether or not you are physically hungry. This includes rules like "I must not eat after 6pm or all the food will turn into fat" or some other unfriendly magical-sounding thing.
- Eating only when you're REALLY fucking hungry. Many people who have chronically restricted their food and have been under-eating for months or years can no longer recognise their early cues for hunger, only labelling themselves as hungry when hunger has reached an extreme feeling-dizzy, stomach-about-to-cave-in-on-itself, hangry-and-gonna-eat-your-head level. Some people don't think they're worthy of food unless they reach this extreme level of hunger.
- Paying penance for eating "bad" foods by skipping the next meal, eating less, or doing even more exercise.
- Cutting back on food in the lead up to a special event like a wedding. This often turns into unconscious under-eating and the distortion of hunger cues (see no.4) that goes with this.
- Suppressing hunger by drinking caffeinated drinks or diet soft drink, by keeping busy e.g. by exercising, working, or even by smoking. I've seen "health-conscious" people take up smoking cigarettes again in the misguided belief that smoking isn't as "bad" as eating too much!
- Judging what you deserve to eat based on what you've eaten or how much you've exercised earlier that day, instead of relying on hunger cues.
- Going vegetarian, paleo, or gluten-free for the sole purpose of losing or controlling your weight, and in the case of vegetarianism, using the ethical and environmental reasons to justify your decision even if these are not your primary reasons.
- Skipping meals and replacing them with a "healthy" alternative - I'm looking at you, bulletproof coffee! When people consume bulletproof coffee in place of a proper balanced nourishing breakfast, things tend to backfire after an average of three weeks.
- Trying "natural" weight loss aids such as Garcinia Cambogia (which doesn't work, by the way...) or ketogenic supplements "better than coconut oil" that are meant to switch you to "fat-burning mode" (GGGAAAAAHHHH!!!) Just because a product comes from a plant and can therefore be labelled "natural", "herbal", "organic", or "healthy", you are attempting to mess with your appetite or metabolism in order to control weight. This is not healthy - this is dieting.
What's the alternative?
But if you're fed up with dieting - in any form - and you don't know that there's an alternative to the diet mentality - you might be asking, "what do I do instead?" Because dieting comes with its attendant rigidity and clear cut rules, NOT dieting can feel like chaos. And it might initially feel chaotic when you let go of diets, but this won't last forever. So here's the alternative:
Focussing on health, not weight, is the alternative.
Changing damaging thoughts and behaviours as part of working towards long term, sustainable health - and letting your weight naturally fall where it will - is the alternative (scary, I know).
Intuitive eating is the alternative. This means finding a place of balance where internal cues guide you as to when, what, and how much to eat (also scary, I know!). Initially this can feel chaotic and frightening. Keep working on it - it will get better.
Building a relationship with food that honours and supports your body, is the alternative.
Moving your body in a way that generates joy and pleasure whilst building or maintaining fitness or strength, is the alternative to compulsively exercising as a means of controlling your weight, burning calories, and/or trying to conform to the "fit is the new skinny" ideal.
IF weight loss happens as a side effect of improving health behaviours, that's not a bad thing. It's the pursuit of weight loss that's the problem.
So together let's call bullshit on all these modern forms of dieting. Because there IS an alternative, and it's far healthier - physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually healthier - than dieting ever could be, even in it's greenest, cleanest, leanest disguise.