We tenacious Americans have dieted for over 60 years now.
Why dieting hasn’t worked for us psychologically:
1. Diets make you want what you cannot have. The more we can’t have it, the more we want it. Forbidding certain foods causes us to focus on that food. Making a food “illegal” gives it false power over us. Thinking of a food as banned can push us to overeat it, rather than responding to it normally.
2. Diets make food a moral issue. It is either “good food” or “bad food”. This eventually leads to “I’m good” or “I’m bad” according to what I eat. Thinking of food as good or bad makes it seem like an ethical choice, when it isn’t. You are not a good person because you eat a salad and a bad person because you eat a piece of candy.
3. Dieting leads to shame. Dieters often shame themselves for not being perfect, for not sticking to the diet, for craving “bad” food, for emotional eating, etc. This diet-induced shame undermines self-confidence, self-acceptance and self-respect.
4. Dieting often leads to body-hatred. Restrictive dieting, and our thin-obsessed culture, can erode the gift of feeling “at home” in one’s own body, leading us to focus negatively on every perceived flaw. We berate ourselves for our weight and for our failure to change it. Psychologists find that dieting amplifies our body shame, leads to body obsession – causing even those who are not overweight to loathe their own body.
5. Dieting causes anxiety. We’re often anxious about being around food that’s not “on the diet”, about trusting ourselves around “fattening” foods, about not getting enough food or about eating too much. Since food is a part of daily life, this stress is constant.
Getting on the scales can be anxiety producing, judging ourselves harshly if pounds are not lost. When we’re “being good” we feel anxious about not eating the food we want; when we’re “being bad” we feel guilty, but are at least eating food we like.
Dieting is anything but peaceful.
6. Diets focus on the negative. “I can’t eat that” is continually ringing in our heads. We’re constantly thinking this is not on my diet, that is not allowed, I better not eat that…
7. Diets are not sustainable. Research shows that diets get shorter and shorter the further we travel along our dieting trek. They get less pleasant and more impossible to handle and we grow less and less confident that we can follow through.
No one can live on a perpetual diet and no one needs to.
8. Dieting causes us to have a sense of desperation about food. The food we do get to eat becomes entirely too important. We eat every bite and want to lick the plate. After the diet has ended these intense feelings don’t just magically go away.
The memory of deprivation is deep and powerful and damages our feelings toward food. These feelings have a big influence on the strong urge to clean our plate.
9. Dieting makes food a big hairy deal. It creates an unnatural anticipation, entitlement and excitement about food that makes it difficult to stop eating – even when our stomach has had enough.
10. Dieting gives a false sense of control. It’s a powerful distraction from real living and authentic coping. It provides a temporary sense of control, order and security. We feel hopeful that this diet is going to be the answer to everything.
Giving up dieting can be uncomfortable at first because the false hope it promises is seductive.
11. Dieting causes us to eat excessively when we normally would not. Diets begin with an eating fest – we have to eat plenty of what we’ll “never eat again.” Then, when the diet is over, we end it with another eating fest, enjoying all those wonderful foods that were forbidden…usually with a big helping of guilt mixed with relief.
12. Dieting can affect us socially. You may become reclusive when you’re on a diet so you won’t be tempted by foods that are “illegal.” You may become reclusive when you’re off the diet so you can eat in secret or because you feel shame about eating “normal food” in public.
These are just some of the psychological reasons restrictive dieting can’t work for us. We haven’t touched on the physiological reasons here – there are many. It’s abundantly clear that dieting is not a permanent solution; in fact, it has done us harm.
The good news is that each of us can leave restriction and deprivation behind and rebuild a balanced, peaceful food-life – one that gives us the vibrant health and comfortable weight we want.
Feeling good in your body and your mind is not too much to ask!
This is an adapted excerpt from my newly updated & revised book, The Liberated Eater. For more information about rebuilding your food-life, feel free to give me a call at 615-330-8884. What are we waitin’ for??