Before we can quit dieting, we need to be clear on what a diet is.
When we talk about diets or say “diets don’t work,” we are using “diet” to mean:
A prescribed system of eating, relying on outside rules that govern what can be eaten, when it can be eaten, or how much can be eaten.
A synonym for “dieting” for our purposes is “restricting.” When you restrict certain foods or how much you eat, that’s a form of dieting. Many diets are for the purpose of weight loss, but diets can also be undertaken for a variety of health reasons.
When we say “artificial restriction,” we mean not eating something based on an outside rule, rather than from wisdom coming from inside yourself. That is, if you don’t like the taste of bread or the way it makes you feel, that’s a personal decision coming from inside yourself. If you don’t eat bread, or feel bad about it when you do, because you’ve “heard” or “read” that it’s bad for you, that’s coming from an outside influence.
Here are some other common dieting rules:
- A diet can be very detailed (such as specific recipes or food combinations you are directed to have each day).
- Or it can be very broad, as in a list of foods you aren’t “allowed” to eat.
- It can limit or disallow a specific food (white potato), food ingredients (sugar or wheat), or whole food groups (such as all carbs).
- It can limit amounts, serving sizes, number of times a food is allowed, or dictate specific calorie limits, points, or “exchanges.”
- It can specify when to eat or not eat.
- It can be strict or flexible. You can follow it strictly, or fluidly, which allows for “cheat days” on weekends, special occasions, difficult times, or whenever you feel justified.
Because of the rules and restrictions, dieting encompasses a system of morality regarding what is good (allowed) vs. bad (not allowed or limited). And, of course, we naturally want what is limited, and we feel guilt or even shame when we rebel and break the rules.
Here’s where it gets sneaky: A diet’s rules can be explicit—written in an article or a book, or just in your mind.
Or they can be implicit—that is, you’ve internalized the rules to the point that you may not realize you’re dieting or restricting. If you tell yourself that you can’t have something for any external reason, then you’re following an internalized diet.
If you censor what you eat based on whether it’s good or bad, you’re following an internalized diet. If you are counting the calories in your food throughout the day, you’re following an internalized diet. If you often find yourself hungry, even starving, and don’t feel entitled to eat, you’re following an internalized diet.
If you think a binge is not being able to stop at one cookie (especially when you’re hungry) or occasionally having a second serving, that’s dieting. If you feel guilty about “cheating,” this is a clear sign, as is feeling guilt or shame about having an appetite, not being on a diet, or eating in general. If you equate “healthy” eating with yukky tasting food, you’re also following an internalized diet.
Our society amplifies the dieting message to the point where we assume that any outsider—whether they’re a doctor, a self-appointed expert, or someone on the train knows what’s best for us. In the past, we all “knew” fat was bad. Now we “know” carbs are bad, and we “know” gluten and sugar are evil. You may “know” that you should always choose foods based on their nutrient content. You may “know” that being fat is bad and “know” that fat in your diet causes fat on your body. And you just accept all of these things as the truth without further thought (even though these statements are all now known to be untrue).
You may be suffering from a “high-fact” diet. That is, you may know the calorie counts for every imaginable food. Or you may know how many carbs, fat grams, or “points” are in everything. Or how many calories each form of movement burns.
In summary, if you’re following any external or internalized rules or guidance about what, how, when, or even why to eat, without the input of your internal wisdom, you’re dieting. However chronic dieting is practiced, it’s holding you back from living your best life.
Dieting actually results in weight gain, not weight loss. It creates and drives emotional eating. It disconnects us from our appetite signals. And it leads to less health in the long run.
We are here to explore what to do instead.
If you are new to this concept, you will find a Start Here guide in the navigation bar.