Reject the Diet Mentality: Embracing Nourishment Instead of Deprivation

If you’ve come to learn more about Intuitive Eating, you are in the right spot! Today we’re talking about Intuitive Eating principle number one: Reject the Diet Mentality.

In this post, you’ll learn about diet mentality, why it’s important to distance yourself from it, and what actionable steps you can take to start rejecting it. You can get a free copy of this article by scrolling to the bottom.

Here we go!

What is the Diet Mentality?

Let’s first define diet mentality so that you can get really clear on what you are looking for. 

Diet mentality is a thought process that is developed in each of us as we grow up in Western society. The culture we live in values thinness and attributes being in a smaller body to health, beauty, and even higher status.

We call this culture: diet culture.

It’s no fault of your own for having thoughts like “Fat people are so lazy; they don’t care about their health,” or “I need to watch my eating. I don’t want to end up gaining weight.”

Diet culture is present in every aspect of life. It comes up around family and friends, at school, at work, and in healthcare settings. And of course, we can’t forget about the media, including social media.

The Intuitive Eating Workbook compares diet culture to past Chinese culture in which young girl’s feet were bound and broken in order to have fashionably small feet which was seen as a sign of status. This painful process may have made them eligible for marriage to a wealthy person, but it also crippled them.

Similarly, in diet culture, we have an obsession with body size to the point that it causes harm.

Not only does diet culture create weight stigma, but it causes one to be hyperfocused on food, exercise, water intake, and other behaviors in the name of health.

This hyperfixation is not supporting your health. It’s actually damaging it by creating negative feelings such as deprivation and stress.

Why is Reject the Diet Mentality the First Principle of Intuitive Eating? 

Don’t get me wrong – there is a place for gentle nutrition and mindful movement within the Intuitive Eating framework.

But this comes after rejecting diet culture. Otherwise, Intuitive Eating itself becomes another diet.

By rejecting diet culture and diet mentality, you can choose to engage in health-promoting behaviors that truly make a lasting difference in your health.

Let me share AB’s story to illustrate this.

AB didn’t think much about her eating until her doctor explained that her BMI was just above the normal range. He told her with some simple changes to her diet and exercise, she could get her weight back down.

AB tried to follow the doctor’s recommendations. She cut out foods from her diet and tried walking every day.

She made it 2 weeks before eating something on the “bad” list. Once the diet was broken, all the food and exercise changes she made went out the window and guilt settled in.

AB talked to a dietitian a few months later who was thankfully aware of diet culture. She helped AB get back to her normal pattern of eating again and suggested adding helpful behaviors, such as increasing fiber intake, instead of taking away foods that AB liked.

In addition to helping AB reject the diet mentality, the dietitian also educated AB that the BMI is an outdated, racist, and inappropriate tool to measure her health.

AB was able to get back to a place in which she didn’t stress about food or her body and focused on walking or eating vegetables because it felt good to do so.

How to Start Rejecting the Diet Mentality

Diet culture can rapidly turn someone with normal eating onto disordered eating which can develop into an eating disorder.

It’s important for your health to stop participating in behaviors such as dieting or over-exercise (this applies to ANY body size).

What constitutes a diet?

A diet is anything that 

  • promotes weight loss (or even weight maintenance)
  • encourages tracking of weight or food intake
  • provides lists of good/bad or clean/dirty foods, or uses a stoplight system to rank food (this creates deprivation)
  • promises outcomes such as feeling better/happier/healthier, looking sexier, becoming a better person, getting richer, living a better life, and so on.

A diet by another name

Diet culture is sneakier than it used to be. While there are still obvious diets like the Atkins or Keto diets, there are others like WW, formerly known as Weight Watchers, who are trying to use the guise of wellness or health to get takers.

Beware of this type of language:

  • “Wellness plan”
  • “Reset”
  • “Lifestyle change”
  • “Health plan”
  • “Clean eating”
  • “Detox/Cleanse”
  • “Elimination Diet”
  • “Gluten-free/Dairy-free”

Say goodbye to diet tools

When you reject the diet mentality, you no longer need the tools of the trade. These might include:

  • a food scale
  • diet or weight loss cookbooks/recipes
  • portion control plates or containers
  • a pedometer or fitbit
  • exercise equipment that you don’t like or use
  • a measuring tape
  • a bathroom scale
  • fitness apps that track food/exercise
  • goal clothes or swimsuit used to compare your body to

Of course, some of these tools can still be used in a healthy way – it is your motivation to use them that matters.

If you find yourself becoming too rigid or obsessive using these tools, or they cause you to feel shame or guilt, it’s time to say goodbye to them. 

What if I Can’t Give Up on the Idea of Being Thinner?

I don’t blame you. I was there once too.

Weight stigma is a harmful and real part of our culture. There is an understandable fear that being in a bigger body will mean you are treated badly. And there is understandable hope that getting to a smaller body will mean you are treated better.

I don’t have a perfect answer, but I do have some facts that helped me when I was trying to answer this question for myself.

  1. To date, there is no known safe, effective, long-term weight loss solution. According to research, attempts at weight loss more often lead to weight cycling for most people.
  2. Even if you are not happy with your body, you can choose to practice body respect. This means taking care of your body by getting adequate sleep, nourishment, relaxation time, joyful movement, and making your body comfortable. 
  3. The Health At Every Size movement is not just a nice way to say anyone can be healthy no matter their body size. It is a social justice movement! People in this group (including myself now) are advocating and fighting for people to be treated fairly regardless of body size. You can join these spaces too!
  4. It does not have to be your job to change your body in order to be treated fairly and respectfully. That is a society-sized problem.

Final Thoughts

Ultimately you have a choice: how do you want to live your one-and-only life?

For me and so many others, obsessing over food and body became a chore that harmed my physical and mental health and took me away from what was most important in life.

What are your values? In your experience, has diet culture brought you closer or farther to these values? What has diet culture taken from you? Time? Brain space? Money? Relationships? Happiness?

Your body does not have to be something you fight against. Its only job is to keep you alive and healthy. Rejecting diet culture might just be the first step you take in working with your body and getting back your life!

Leave a comment with your questions and thoughts!

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