If you’ve ever dieted, you likely understand through your own experience their cyclical and counterproductive nature. One minute you’re eating well and the next minute you find yourself feeling completely out of control around food. What diets don’t tell you is this is exactly what they set you up for.
Dieting is any food plan or rigid health paradigm that dictates exactly what you eat, when you eat it and how much you eat. There’s a significant difference between practicing gentle nutrition and dieting. Having a gentle concern and awareness about what, when and why you’re eating and mindfully paying attention to cues of hunger and fullness are completely appropriate behaviors for long-term health and wellness.
But don’t fall into the trap of dieting in any form — even when it is masqueraded as “healthy lifestyle change.” If anyone is telling you exactly what to do with your eating, leaving no wiggle room for taste, enjoyment, cultural values, celebrations, etc., chances are good it’s a diet and you should run the other way.
So, if you’re ever tempted to jump on a diet bandwagon, here’s a list of what top nutrition experts wish you knew about dieting.
1. Diets aren’t sustainable. Clients often come to me claiming they have no willpower or feeling like a failure, but it’s the diet that has failed, not them. Our bodies aren’t meant to be deprived of food, physically or emotionally, according to dietitian Rachael Hartley.
2. Diets take away your power. Diets farm out your eating decisions to someone else, and in so doing, completely disrupt your ability to listen to your own body, turning healthy eating into a bigger struggle than it needs to be. To do well with food and eating takes connecting with your body and listening to its hunger and fullness signals and making your appetite work for you, according to dietitian Adina Pearson.
3. Diets miss the mark of what’s truly important health-wise. “Healthy foods” eaten in a limited, restrained or obsessive way are just as damaging to our health and well-being as a diet where “unhealthy” food is consumed in excess. There are no good or bad foods, and eating certain foods does not make you good or bad.
It’s also key to consider other lifestyle habits like sleep, stress and movement in context of how you eat. None of these exist in a vacuum, according to dietitian Cara Harbstreet.
4. Dieting is not a path toward happiness or peace. So often when you see an ad for a diet (or “lifestyle” change) it comes with the promise that this plan/program/supplement will result in happiness (along with other unrealistic outcomes).
But the truth is, dieting takes up valuable mental and emotional space in order to negotiate food choices, follow food rules and place conditions on when, what and why you can eat. This mentality teaches us that our own internal wisdom cannot be trusted, and our only hope to create long-lasting change is to be more strict and have more willpower.
Not only does this not work from a physiological standpoint, but it wears us down mentally and emotionally until ultimately we cannot follow the “diet” any longer. Failing at a diet makes us feel like we are failures and erodes our self-esteem, confidence and self-worth. The negative impact dieting has on our mental and emotional well-being far outweighs any alleged physical health benefits, according to dietitian Ander Wilson.
5. Diets ignore one of the most important tenets of overall health — pleasure. Part of our health and well-being is experiencing pleasure, and one of the ways we can achieve this is through enjoying and savoring fun foods, according to dietitian Kara Lydon.
6. Diets take us further from our body’s internal wisdom. Diets teach us to lose trust instead of trust ourselves with food. The foods that diets impose limits or restrictions on are the very foods that will feel more attractive and powerful, leading often to overcompensation at some point when off the diet. When we have a theoretical box of “off-limits” foods, they will work tremendously well for soothing and pleasure when we are vulnerable, which can be helpful in the moment, but in the long run this causes more distrust and fear of food, according to dietitian Sumner Brooks.
7. It’s never too late to give up dieting and/or the dieting mindset. Even if you’ve been dieting half your life, it’s never too late to ditch the dieting mindset. It’s so freeing to distance yourself from the mentality of a culture obsessed with dieting and analyzing the morality of every “good” and “bad” food. There are no good or bad foods — food is just food. It’s never too late to embrace that shift away from dieting, according to dietitian Lindsey Janeiro.
Avoid the common mistakes people make when pursuing health and wellness. Choose foods, activities, behaviors and mentalities that enhance overall health and make you feel balanced and whole. Don’t fall for the myth that dieting will lead to peace or health — because it doesn’t work.