WTF is The Diet Mentality & Why is it So Bad?

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Photo: Clare Winfield from The New Nourishing

I’m sure I’m generalizing, but I honestly can’t think of one woman I know who hasn’t gotten sucked into the “Diet Mentality”. Before I go any further, let me define that: The Diet Mentality is the constant awareness of food and the impact we believe it will have on our bodies — and therefore attaching a moral code to certain foods (i.e. “good” and “bad” foods).

It’s the constant pressure to resist food and go against our bodies’ natural instincts (like hunger cues) because of the deep-seated fear of gaining weight. It’s the calorie counting that’s become second nature, the notion of “being bad” for eating pizza, and the almost religious-style repentance we undertake by restricting your food intake after we feel “guilty” about eating something.

I’ve actually never even been on a real prescriptive “diet” per se, and yet I’ve still felt all of the above things. That’s how powerful and pervasive this mentality is.

Why are we all impacted by the diet mentality?

It’s easy to blame the media for this, and it’s are certainly a huge part of the messaging we receive on a near minute-by-minute basis, but it’s more than that. The cult of dieting is encouraged by messaging from the women around us (“I shouldn’t eat this, but…”, “I’m going on a cleanse on Monday”, “I feel fat”); praise for losing weight; desire for control in a chaotic situation — and all of this is wrapped up in the notion that our worth as women is dependent on our beauty and our bodies.

Does this make you mad? If yes, good. If no, go ahead and read The Beauty Myth.

I’m not saying this to make you feel silly or stupid for playing by these rules for so long — none of us are immune to it. But what I want more women to wake up to is that we can and should begin to break up with this Diet Mentality. I say begin to break up, because this is a long, winding process and there will be many times where it’s easier to revert back to those old diet-y ways.

Photo: Clare Winfield from The New Nourishing

Why ditch the diet mentality?

But when we do start to disentangle ourselves from this Diet Mentality loop — restrict, indulge, reel guilty and bad about ourselves , restrict again — we start to think about stuff that’s way cooler and more important than what every morsel of food may or may not do to our body.

We need to give up fearing what our bodies will do when we stop overthinking every meal. Because when we give up this crazy-making control we are attempting to have on our bodies, we actually let our bodies do what they’re naturally supposed to.

Bodies are so. freaking. smart. They have the power to regulate, balance out, and tell us what’s wrong — if we can actually figure out how listen to them. They’ll even tell us to eat broccoli, sweet potatoes, and green smoothies in the same way they tell us to eat a cookie or a whole wheel of cheese — but only when we fully stop trying to restrict ourselves. It’s funny, but once we let go of restriction and control, is when we stop feeling so crazy out-of-control with food.

After a long and difficult path of kicking the restrictive Diet Mentality to the curb, I now feel great in my body most of the time. Having a “thin” day no longer determines my happiness, I eat all the things I love with pure enjoyment and no guilt — from pasta and meatballs, and lots of slices of fresh bread with butter to brussels sprouts, sweet potatoes, and huge leafy green salads. None of it is bad, and it’s ALL good — for the body, the brain, and the soul.

Photo: Clare Winfield from The New Nourishing

Here’s what I don’t let influence what I eat:

Striving for thinness, calories, restriction, activity level (i.e. having “earned” something by going for a run), fear of getting fat, not feeling good enough, disliking my body, or what some health guru told me is “good” and “bad”.

What I do let influence what I eat:

How hungry I’m feeling, how I would like to feel after eating, my cravings, my energy levels, what I’m excited to cook, the planet — I try not to waste food and don’t eat of ton of meat (except for when I’m really in the mood) because of the big impact both of those things have on the environment.

For me, all foods are allowed, and that has naturally created a beautiful balance in my life.

The Impact

I’ve spent a lot of hours reshaping my relationship to food, and it’s paid off big time. I feel like I can fully enjoy the pleasures of sitting down to a great meal, snack, or treat multiple times a day. It makes life richer, happier, and more real.

In my next post in this series, I’ll share a bunch of resources in Part 2 that lead me to release the control and stop worrying about food.

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