Your Diet vs. Being On a Diet – And Why That Matters

By Lisa Newman

Diet as both noun and verb dominate our discussion of food and health. Everyone, it seems, is either “on” or “off” of a diet, dieting, or planning to start. Yet the word diet has another meaning, and the difference in these meanings can unlock the results you seek.

Beyond its common usage as a restrictive plan of eating, your diet is also what you actually eat. Everyone has a diet, meaning their routine way of eating. But not everyone is on a diet, meaning restricting food according to a pre-set plan.

Dieting Fails But Your Diet Is Forever

When we say we are on a diet we are referring to someone else’s idea of what we should eat. It doesn’t matter if this plan comes from a medical professional, a friend, or the internet – It’s advice from an external source. On the other hand, what you actually eat comes from your own internal choices in the moment.

The crucial difference between dieting and your actual diet lies in this external vs. internal split. Our needs, desires, and options don’t always match up with pre-set plans. This is what’s going on when you eat the potato casserole instead of the cup of steamed vegetables dictated by your diet plan. Maybe the casserole was served to you, whereas the vegetables weren’t available. Maybe you love potatoes and cheese and don’t enjoy steamed vegetables. Maybe you ate enough vegetables earlier in the day and now other carbs are calling.

This is why it’s not you that is failing when you find yourself unable to stick to a diet plan. It’s the diet plan itself that is failing you.

Stop Dieting and Focus On Your Actual Diet

Continued reliance on external advice fuels disconnection. Those with a history of dieting often find themselves with guilt and shame over eating, at the mercy of strong cravings, or overwhelmed and out of control around food. They have lost touch with appetite signals and may even have trouble knowing when they are hungry or full. As long as you keep trying to implement external advice with no connection to your internal wisdom you will keep furthering this process of disconnection.

The opposite of dieting is to use internal cues to drive eating choices. This is the process of intuitive eating. You start where you are, with what you routinely choose to eat, and adapt as you become more sensitive to your body’s messages. When eating according to internal cues, each eating occasion strengthens your connection and furthers an upward spiral of good choices.

Intuitive Eating Is More Than Not Dieting

Every animal is born knowing what to eat and how much. We humans are too, even if the diet industry has a multi-billion dollar investment in convincing us otherwise.

Intuitive eating however isn’t a free-for-all or a fairy tale where you get to eat everything you want when your mind wants it. Rather intuitive eating is the process of figuring out what your specific body needs. In this way you recognize that you are the best expert on how to feed yourself.

Intuitive eating isn’t the same as the out-of-control eating you may have experienced between diets. When all foods that appeal to you are legitimate choices there is no deprivation, nothing to rebel against, and no need for guilt or shame around eating. When restriction is gone cravings, overeating, and binging also fall away.

Why Do We Keep Dieting When It Doesn’t Work?

In most domains of life we are competent at assessing outside advice, modifying or rejecting it as needed. So why do we keep looking outside of ourselves for advice on what and how to eat? Why do we keep dieting when the diets fail to deliver?

I believe this is the result of pervasive diet culture that convinces us that we need someone else to tell us how to eat. Diet culture leads to mothers risking future eating disorders by putting even small children on diets. It leads to the medical field having one answer for all health problems for those in fat bodies despite ample evidence that bodies come in a variety of sizes. It leads to desperation that drives healthy women to lose weight even when that weight loss comes at the price of physical and psychological health.

And it leads to our believing that there’s something wrong with us, when what’s wrong is it’s the expectations of diet culture.

Intuitive Eating Isn’t a Diet, It’s Your Diet

Intuitive eating is your regular eating guided by connection to your internal wisdom. A long history of following external dieting advice may have left you feeling disconnected from your body, but the wisdom is still there. You only have to start listening.

In our dreams we will come to the end of our diet plan and having achieved our goals we will return to eating the way we want by making satisfying choices for ourselves. The good news is that we don’t have to wait to allow ourselves to eat this way.

The pot of gold at the end of the rainbow that you keep chasing with one diet after another is achievable right now when you choose your diet over dieting.