The diet mentality is something that we see all around us every day. The magazines at the checkout stand with headlines like “Lose 10 lbs in a week with _____ diet!” and “___ lost 50 lbs fast with _____ diet!!” It seems like there is always a new hot diet that is just the perfect fix to help you lose all the weight and you don’t even have to work out! We are inundated with these messages, so it’s no wonder that many of us have an unhealthy relationship with the word “diet.”
First appearing in the 13th century, the word diet is defined as “food or drink regularly provided or consumed” (Merriam-Webster). But that is not the way that many of us think of that word now. Instead, when we hear the word diet, we think of whatever fad diet has hit the shelves lately or cycles of restrictive eating. For many of us, this word may even bring on stress, anxiety or guilt. I know it did for me.
In my late teens up to my mid-20s, that was me. I would try a restrictive diet, only to fall off the wagon shortly after, binge, and then feel guilty….which would end up with me binging more. The only “diet” that I had much success with was calorie counting. But because I didn’t really have an understanding of what I was doing, it was overly restrictive and stressful. I was miserable and very hungry, all the time. I did lose some weight, but in the end the high level of restriction was too much for me and I stopped, gaining all the weight back plus some extra!
Does this story sound familiar? I imagine it does, because I know many others that have been through the exact same thing. Many people cycle through periods of restrictive dieting for years with these results. They feel the guilt, shame and stress of “failing” at their diet, of not being able to lose the weight and keep it off. Much of this, to me, seems to stem from how we view our diets.
In today’s diet mentality, diets are temporary. They are viewed as the quick fix or magic pill for weight loss. The diet industry is a billion dollar industry for a reason. People will go on a diet to “lose the weight” but for many, that is as far ahead as they think about it. So the diet works (for the moment), they lose the weight, stop the diet because they have succeeded at their goal, and then they gain the weight back.
And that is even if they get to the point of losing the weight to begin with! If they don’t lose the weight quickly, they inevitably become frustrated with the diet “not working” and being too restrictive and they give up. Either way, it’s unhealthy, both physically and mentally. It promotes disordered eating habits and in many cases, associates negative emotions with food. This was something I struggled with a lot in my younger years.
Even now I still sometimes struggle with guilt and stress about eating healthy. It’s better than it was, but it’s still present sometimes. The difference is that I now recognize it and I don’t let it throw me off track anymore. Yes, maybe I shouldn’t have eaten quite as much of that treat as I did. But I did, and now I’m going to go back to eating like I normally do. One unhealthy meal does not you have failed.
So what do I do differently now? Well, for one, I don’t view myself as on a diet. I do watch what I eat, and I don’t just eat whatever I want, whenever I want. I work to make smart choices and to find healthy alternatives to unhealthy foods. But I also have a cheat meal each week (gotta have some pizza!) and I still eat foods I love. But to me, it’s not a diet in the modern use of the word. It’s a lifestyle. It’s just how I eat. And that change in perspective has helped me a lot when it comes to staying on track and eating healthy for over a year now.
Healthy eating as a lifestyle takes work and practice, along with a healthy dose of understanding towards yourself. I spend time every week planning out my meal plan and making my meal prep. And now I’m actually adding to that and starting to track my macros and planning my meal preps accordingly. (More on If It Fits Your Macros, or IIFYM, later on!)
So what can you do to shift away from the diet mentality and start looking at healthy eating as a lifestyle?
6 Tips to Ditching the Diet Mentality
- Make it sustainable. Along with being unsustainable long-term, heavy calorie restriction and cutting out foods entirely can be unhealthy in many cases. Restricting your calorie intake too much can wreak havoc with your metabolism. And cutting out foods you love is not going to work for the rest of your life!
- Don’t forget to have fun! You aren’t “on a diet,” which means that you can still go out with friends for drinks or dinner or have that treat if you want to. And it’s fine to enjoy the food at a family gathering for the holidays! Just make smart choices about it and remember that you probably don’t want to be doing that every day.
- Moderation is key. Love Reese’s? (Can you tell that I do!?) You can still have them! Just moderate how much of them you have and how often. Whatever your favorite treat or food is, you can still have it, just in moderation.
- Plan. Planning is key to success for me. It is very hard to eat healthy on a busy schedule when you haven’t planned for it! There are too many quick and easy options out there that are unhealthy, like fast food.
- Have cheat meals. Okay, I actually dislike this term, but it is the easiest term for it. You can plan for unhealthy or “cheat” meals during your week. I have one a week. And even if you have one that isn’t planned for, remember that it doesn’t mean you failed! You can’t fail at this….you will be doing it for the rest of your life! One meal or even a week of meals isn’t going to be that big of a deal in the long run. Just start eating healthy again! (And you don’t need to wait for a Monday to start either 🙂 )
- Food is not a reward. This is one of the most important shifts for me. When I was still back in the diet mentality, food was a reward. If I did well on my diet for a while, I deserved a treat! This is not a healthy attitude to have any more than the guilt was. Yes I love my treats and I do still have them. But it is because I want one, not because I did something to deserve it. Instead, I reward myself in other ways with non-food things, like workout gear!
Eating healthy as a lifestyle takes some time and work to establish, but it is well worth it in the end! And I can promise you, it is less stressful and guilt-inducing than any diet I ever tried!
How do you view the word “diet”? Have you had positive or negative experiences with a diet? I would love to hear your thoughts, so please leave a comment below!