Part of the Eating with Intention Series

This series is dedicated to helping you get familiar with the 10 core principles of restoring your relationship with food through Intuitive Eating — a phrase coined by Registered Dietitians Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch. Intuitive Eating provides a thoughtful, compassionate, and research-based path for returning to nurturing our bodies with food.

Principle I: Rejecting the Diet Mentality

What do we mean when we say diet mentality? Type the words “diet”, “detox” or “healthy eating plan” into any search engine and you’ll be inundated with the diet mentality — more specifically, all of the ideas and images in our culture that promote a “thin ideal” and the relentless effort to discover the ultimate weight loss cure.

Think back to those times you’ve found yourself scrolling aimlessly through your social media account. Suddenly the diet mentality appears on your screen in the form of a perfectly shiny ceramic bowl of raspberries with the hashtag, #eatclean

You might feel a tinge of excitement as you begin clicking away to immerse yourself in articles, info-graphics, rationales, and recipes for this new way of eating and begin to think, “Oh I can do that. I can cut out (insert bad food name here) and add (insert good food name here) and finally lose this weight.”

So what’s so wrong with that? Aren’t some foods more nutritionally dense than others? Yes, absolutely. Isn’t it good to have a plan to make sure I stay on track? While some plans can serve as a supplemental source of support for those recovering from disordered eating, sticking to a restrictive plan is often where many of us can get a bit off track when we follow a diet aimed at weight loss.

Take a moment to pause and think back to your first foray into diet/detox/cleanse/healthy eating point system. Then think about the next one, and the next one, and all of the plans and rules and restrictions you’ve subscribed to over the years, and ask yourself these questions:

  • How long did you stay on the diet?
  • Did you lose weight?
  • How much time and energy did you spend counting, weighing, measuring, etc.?
  • How did you relate to yourself during the diet? (i.e. judgmental, harsh, restrictive, etc.)
  • What caused you to stop following your plan?
  • Did you regain the weight?
  • How long did it take for you to try something else?

The main problem here is that when we are battling external guidelines (through dieting) for what to eat, how much, and how often, we inadvertently throw off our body’s internal system of attunement. Instead of providing our body with nutrients based on hunger and satiety, we follow plans, guides, and restrictions and even ascribe moral attributes to food (good or bad). Instead of enjoyment, pleasure, and satisfaction, we experience guilt and worry, and we begin making plans to compensate for our “bad” behavior when we go off the plan. These external guidelines have their way of turning eating — an innately enjoyable human experience — into a mechanical chore.

If you’re connecting with the content above, you’re likely tired of the mental gymnastics you’ve been doing around food. You’re also exasperated by the emotional turmoil you experience based on your body’s weight and shape. You may also be having a hard time shaking off that lingering hope for the one diet trend that will work for you. The cold hard truth is that clinging to the diet mentality will ultimately thwart your efforts in healing your relationship with food and your body. Unlike dieting, intuitive eating is not a new plan, rather it is path for returning to a holistic innate wisdom — a path that is deeply satisfying, practical, and sustainable for the long haul.

If you’re interested in learning about more principles of intuitive eating, check back for more of this weekly article series.

Source: Tribole, E, Resch, E. Intuitive Eating. New York: St. Martins Griffin 2015. Print

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