During January, it’s common to hear people talking about their new diets, the ‘detoxes’ they’re trying after the festive season, the foods they’re cutting out of their routines in order to be ‘healthy’ or the calorie restrictions they’re following to lose weight. This ‘do or die(t)’ mentality is not only unhealthy, unsustainable and ineffective (substantial research shows that the majority of people who lose weight will gain it back over the next few years), but it can do real damage to our mental health and our relationship with food.
Here are just a few reasons why we need to work to overcome the diet-mentality in 2019:
Labelling foods as ‘off-limits’ is harmful and ineffective
When you follow a diet, you work off the basis that certain foods are ‘bad’ or ‘toxic’ and should be eliminated. This assigns value to certain foods, and by extension, the people that eat these foods. For example, someone who exists solely on vegetables is ‘good’ and ‘pure’, and if you eat (very necessary!) carbs, fat and sugar, you are ‘bad’. Uninformed sources with no nutrition education or certification bombard us with fake news and fearmongering around food, causing us to develop fear, guilt, shame, suspicion and more around eating certain food-types, or even eating a certain amount.
Deciding certain foods are entirely off-limits (unless you have allergies and intolerances) places unrealistic restriction on yourself. Banning certain foods and then giving in and eating them leaves us feeling guilty. We need to get rid of this “forbidden fruit” mentality and allow ourselves all food in moderation. Eating a balanced, nutritious diet is very important and should be a priority for everyone but depriving yourself entirely of the food you love is unsustainable and unnecessary.
‘Failing’ to stick to a restrictive diet can leave you feeling depressed and worthless
When we follow a diet, we often have an idea of how much weight we’ll lose. The disappointment and sense of failure that comes when we ‘cheat’, or don’t achieve the results we want, can be crushing. When we inevitably ‘mess-up’ and eat a banned food or ‘fail’ to have lost the weight, we’re left feeling like this happened because we weren’t good enough.
The truth is that placing restrictions on what we eat, whether in calories or foods/food groups, can have an extremely negative impact our relationships with food and our self-esteem. When you tie up your identity with a diet, failing at that diet is seen as a personal failure and can damage your overall happiness.
Various diets make false promises and cause you to set unattainable goals
Fad diets are often based on inaccurate information, making false promises that are too good to be true. For example, they may guarantee quick results, a lot of weight lost, and very little effort on your behalf. With no research-based evidence, they offer testimonials from people who tell compelling before-and-after stories about how their lives were transformed by the diet. We’re led to believe these stories are true and if we follow their simple formula, we too will achieve X and Y.
Any diet promising weight loss in a certain amount of time is making a promise it can’t keep. To begin with, even if a diet does result in fast weight loss, the odds of this being sustainable are very, very low. More importantly, every single body is different, and even the most scientific of weight loss programs fail to predict how much weight an individual will lose.
Dieting can lead us to spend money on extreme (and often unhealthy) products
The fact is that certain diets are created with the purpose of selling a product to people who are feeling desperate. Diet pills, detox teas and more all demand buying a certain product in order to lose weight/detox/feel good. We’re led to believe that the more money we spend, the greater our chances of weight loss.
Diets that are expensive to maintain, either because they require supplements and special products, or because they demand all-organic foods, grass-fed beef and other speciality items, are unsound and unreliable.
Dieting destroys our ability to eat intuitively
Most of us are born with an intuitive relationship with food. If you watch a baby or toddler eat, they eat only when they’re hungry, stopping when they’re full. They listen to their bodies and eat accordingly. While this behaviour is innate, many of us lose our connection to it due to the influence of outside voices.
When we diet, we ignore or dismiss our internal cues. Hunger exists for a reason and we need to listen to our bodies when we crave food, and also stop eating when we feel full. Be aware that thirst can often be mistaken for hunger, so be sure to stay hydrated throughout the day to avoid any confusion.
Dieting may remove the joy from food
When we think about healthy eating, we shouldn’t just think about nutrition but about our emotional relationship with food and the joy it brings us. While food has nutritional value and important effects on our health, it is also a source of pleasure, a way to celebrate events and connect with friends and to our culture. When we look at food only as something to be restricted and controlled to achieve a certain look, it can deprive us of the joy of a healthy relationship with food and the positive mental health benefits this brings.
Eating a well-balanced and varied diet is important to our health, as is maintaining a good relationship with food and our bodies. While there are certain medical conditions and circumstances that mean people have to cut out certain foods or follow a restricted diet, most us should work to move past the dieting mentality and the idea that certain foods need to be eliminated from our diets. Eating should be intuitive, positive and a source of joy!