Updated: Dec 17, 2021
If you are new to Intuitive Eating, one of the very first things you hear about is Principle 1: Reject the Diet Mentality. But what does this even mean?
According to Evelyn Tribbole and Elyse Resch, the two creators of Intuitive Eating, Rejecting the Diet Mentality is to "throw out the diet books and magazine articles that offer you the false hope of losing weight quickly, easily, and permanently. Get angry at diet culture that promotes weight loss and the lies that have led you to feel as if you were a failure every time a new diet stopped working and you gained back all of the weight. If you allow even one small hope to linger that a new and better diet or food plan might be lurking around the corner, it will prevent you from being free to rediscover Intuitive Eating."
This is an essential FIRST STEP to your journey to becoming an Intuitive Eater. We need to understand that our current relationship to food and is greatly influenced by the conditioning of the diet culture we live in.
Diet Culture is "a belief system that focuses on and values weight, shape, and size over well-being." Variations of diet culture also include rigid eating patterns that on the surface are in the name of health, but in reality are about weight shape or size.
Essentially, diet culture is anything that equates health and beauty to slenderness and links food and eating to morality. This is problematic in its own right, but when we look even further back, diet culture is actually a form of oppression that relies on fatphobia and is rooted in racism. It disproportionately harms women, ethnic minorities, individuals with disabilities and those in larger bodies to name but a few.
Some examples of Diet Culture include but is not limited to:
The promotion and use of Skinny teas, appetite suppressants, carb blockers, detoxes, cleanses.
Food labelling - labelling food as "good", "guilt" or "sin-free", or saying something like “finally chocolate you can enjoy because it’s free of X, Y and Z ingredient”.
Comments like “I’ve earned this (insert food)” after physical activity.
Women’s magazines or social media promoting a certain body and beauty ideals.
External ways of tracking nutrition and energy requirements, like counting macros, calories or points.
This belief system has contributed to weight stigma, fatphobia and oppression. We see it in everyday conversations about new diet attempts; we see it in the pressure for new moms to “get their body back”, or in brides “shedding for the wedding”. It's in the incessant talk of food plans or apologizing for what you are about to eat. It promotes a disordered relationship with food and normalizes it.
Is it a Diet in Disguise?
These days diets and diet culture have become more insidious, going undercover as “wellness” or a “lifestyle”. But just because something doesn’t involve calorie counting, doesn’t mean it’s not a diet.
Here are some questions to ask yourself to see if your lifestyle is really a diet in disguise:
Do You label food as good or bad?
Do you think of food in numerical unites-grams, points, macros, calories ect.?
When you gain weight, do you take it as a sign that you are doing something wrong?
Do you celebrate weight loss?
Do you feel shame or pride for eating certain foods?
Are all the people who represent your healthy way of eating or your lifestyle thin?
If you have answered yes to any of these questions, you may be on a pseudo-diet. But do not worry! It makes complete sense that we are all so heavily influenced by diet culture. It is certainly nothing to feel bad about, but it is something worth recognizing, especially before embarking on your Intuitive Eating Journey.
Diets Don't Work
If understanding that the weight loss business is nothing but a for profit system of oppression is not enough to Reject the Diet Mentality, take into consideration this fact: Diets don't even work!
When people go on a diet to try to lose weight, their body actually has physiological mechanism to fight back in order to survive perceived starvation or famine. This is known as the famine response. We all have it. And thankfully, so did our ancestors- otherwise we wouldn’t be here today.
While weight may come off when you or your friends moms cousin starts dieting, weight is almost always regained over time.
This is because the body is genetically programmed to hold onto weight easily because evolution demanded that humans develop specific physiological mechanisms to survive starvation. In the past, the people who were able to survive and reproduce were those who stored fat easily, because they were most protected during times of food shortage. When famine struck, our ancestors survived because their bodies were able to slow energy output (aka their metabolism) and increase fat storage when they finally were exposed to food.
The human body cannot recognize the difference between a diet and a famine.
Four Steps to Get you Closer to Rejecting the Diet Mentality
Recognize and acknowledge the Damage that Dieting Causes. There is a plethora of evidence to show the physiological and psychological damage that dieting has cause. It is important o acknowledge that the harm is real, and any continuation of dieting practices will only perpetuate the problem.
Be Aware of Diet Mentality Traits and Thinking. Diet mentality can be sneaky! Even if you decide to reject diet mentality, you have to be aware of the diet brain thoughts that pop up- willpower, perfectionism, and failure are common traits of diet thinking.
Get rid of Dieter's Tools. Dieters rely on external factors to gauge success, regulate their eating, or measure progress. Throw out the scale, delete the calorie tracking app and yes, toss those dieters handbooks. You don't need them. They are the exact opposite of body attunement.
Be Compassionate Towards Yourself. You have spent years being conditioned that the pursuit of thinness is a primary purpose in your life. You will continue to be exposed to those around you caught up in diet mentality. And yes, you will even be tempted to fantasize about trying "one more diet". It takes time to let go of this desire, even when you KNOW the facts and harmful effects of dieting. Self-compassion is key to becoming an Intuitive Eater. Intuitive Eating is not pass or fail (like dieting is)... it's a journey of self-discovery.
If you'd like to learn more about overcoming eating and body image issues through Intuitive Eating, check out my 1-on-1 coaching program, here.
Katie Valley is a Holistic Nutritionist and Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor whose goal is to dispel the myths of diet culture and reinforce a holistic, health-focused approach to wellness. After her own experience with disordered eating and poor body image, Katie found true healing by practicing Intuitive Eating and Body Acceptance.
Now she has her own practice, Katie Valley Wellness, where she helps women who feel out of control around food learn to eat intuitively, pursue TRUE health, & feel confident in their own body.