There’s a topic coming up frequently in my client sessions, a running theme that continues to surface. And while it takes various forms, the results are predictably the same: WOMEN FEELING COMPULSIVE, OUT-OF-CONTROL AND VORACIOUS AROUND FOOD.
Maybe you can relate.
I’ve been a Body Image Mentor and Eating Psychology Coach long enough to know that when these feelings are present, there’s really only one culprit – DIETING.
But, the women I’m mentoring have ditched their conventional diets in pursuit of food freedom and body acceptance. They don’t count calories or macros anymore. They aren’t tabulating nutrition facts or measuring their fat-free, faux ice cream by the quarter cup. They don’t follow Paleo, Whole30, 21 Day Fix, Sugar Free or Raw Food meal plans. They’re no longer glued to their tracking apps. These women are eating ALL THE THINGS.
In practice, they’re free.
Why then, are they still feeling obsessive around the Oreos and almond butter?
BECAUSE, A DIET IS STILL A DIET BY ANY OTHER NAME.
It’s not the title nor fame that determines whether any particular way of eating is a diet, it’s the RESTRICTION.
And restriction is a complicated beast, because it can exist mentally even when we’re physically allowing the “bad,” “unhealthy” or otherwise “off limits” foods. Like, when we eat a brownie for breakfast only to wrestle all day with guilt over our choice. Or we sneak food into the bathroom in an effort to hide our mac-and-cheese-love from a disapproving partner. It could even show up as a conviction to eat vegetables at every meal despite the fact that we’re perfectly satisfied without the side of leafy greens sometimes.
THESE EATING EXPERIENCES ARE RESTRICTIVE BECAUSE OUR BEHAVIORS OF ALLOWANCE ARE MET WITH INTERNALIZED JUDGMENTS AND SHAME. WE’RE GOING THROUGH THE MOTIONS OF FOOD FREEDOM, ALL THE WHILE CAGED BY NAGGING BELIEFS ABOUT HOW WE “SHOULD” BE FEEDING OURSELVES.
And “SHOULD” is almost always code for “DIET.”
Sure, we might start the day by mindfully eating a bagel (with extra cream cheese) but if what follows after is a shitstorm of anguish and regret over a carb-laden, protein-deficient breakfast – we’re dieting. IT’S CALLED THE “MUST INCREASE PROTEIN AND LIMIT CARBS IN THE MORNING DIET” and when left unchecked it’ll send us head first into a family-size tub of cookie dough. (*Not that there’s anything wrong with cookie dough. It’s the desperate, ravenous refrigerator raid that we could do without.)
SO, WHAT ABOUT YOU?
DO YOU FEEL ASHAMED, EMBARRASSED, FRUSTRATED, GUILTY, WRONG, HUMILIATED, BROKEN, UNHEALTHY, UNWORTHY or DISGRACEFUL for any of your food choices?
If you answered “yes” – YOU’RE PROBABLY STILL DIETING.
And I get it, I do. Diet mentality is all sorts of sneaky like that. Once you call it quits (high five!) on CLEAN EATING, FAT FREE, LOW CAL and SOUTH BEACH those pesky diet rules go undercover and hang on for dear life with fake names of spirituality/moralism, lifestyle choice, accommodation and health concern.
▪️ DON’T EAT SNACKS IN FRONT OF MY HUSBAND DIET
▪️ORDER THE SAME MEAL AS MY GIRLFRIENDS DIET
▪️MUST HAVE VEGGIES 5x A DAY DIET
▪️ NO EATING AFTER 7PM DIET
▪️I NEED TO REPLACE WHAT I ATE SO MY PARENTS WON’T FIND OUT DIET
▪️3 SQUARE MEALS A DAY DIET
▪️ALWAYS LEAVE FOOD ON THE PLATE DIET
▪️I’M MORE HIGH-VIBE THAN YOU DIET
▪️PACKAGED FOOD IS OF THE DEVIL DIET
▪️BUT I HAVE TO EAT LIKE THIS TO ATTRACT A PARTNER DIET
▪️AND MANY, MANY OTHERS
These diets are elusive and seemingly innocent in the anti-diet and intuitive eating worlds because rather than offering rules like serving sizes, macro nutrient ratios or specific restrictions they’re much more ambiguous. While they don’t boast of publicly established guidelines, there exists plenty of thoughts on the best practices for “right” eating. Those subconscious ideals become the standards by which we then measure our worth.
So, unless we’re ready to acknowledge and deconstruct the beliefs we have around food (and our bodies) rather than simply address behavior – OUR FREEDOM TO EAT WILL REMAIN STRICTLY PERFORMATIVE.
It will sustain us for a season. But eventually, as with every diet, we’ll be called to the cupboard late at night by compelling whispers of a full-out-fudge-stripe-cookie-feast followed by a double dose of shame and white-knuckled promises to “do better tomorrow.”
THAT’S WHAT DIETS DO.
THEY MAKE US FEEL UNHINGED AND VOLATILE AROUND FOOD.
THEY KEEP US GOING IN CIRCLES OF OUTWARD EMPOWERMENT AND INWARD SELF-CRITICISM.
DIETS ARE IRONICALLY ALL-CONSUMING.
SO, IF YOU’RE OVERWHELMED BY FOOD THOUGHTS AND OUT-OF-BODY EATING EXPERIENCES, CHANCES ARE YOU’RE STILL ON ONE.