Rejecting the Diet Mentality
Now that we’ve gotten clear on what the diet mentality looks like and how it makes you feel, let’s talk about rejecting it.
One of the biggest reasons it’s important to reject the diet mentality is that diets (whether official or unofficial) don’t work, and they actively cause harm.
You probably already know diets don’t work (which is why you’re trying to learn intuitive eating!). You’re not alone; millions of people have been disappointed by diets.
Between 95 and 99.999 percent of diets fail, and most people gain back even more weight than they lost on diets.
The 0.001 to 5 percent of people who do maintain significant weight loss long-term (for more than five years) engage in many disordered behaviors, including obsessive thoughts about food, weight, and exercise, which have significant negative impacts on their lives and their health.
Research on these long-term weight-loss maintainers has found that their thoughts and behaviors look an awful lot like those of people with anorexia. (In fact, these long-term dieters probably do have anorexia, they just started out in larger bodies and so aren’t given the diagnosis—part of our fatphobic medical system, but that’s a story for another time!)
In other words, the VERY small percentage of people who maintain deliberate weight loss long-term do so only at the expense of their mental and physical health.
The reason long-term weight loss doesn’t work is because we humans are designed to survive famines.
When our bodies sense food deprivation, they sense danger—because bodies can’t tell the difference between a famine and a diet.
And when that happens, they push us in various ways to restore the weight we lost. Those ways include extreme hunger (because your body ramps up its output of hunger hormones in times of famine) and increased cravings for simple sugars and carbs (because your body also increases production of a neurotransmitter that causes these cravings, likely because those foods are the most easily digested and good for quick energy, which is important in times of famine).
So all that is to say, if you’ve been one of the people for whom diets didn’t work, know this: You didn’t fail the diet, the diet failed you. You weren’t “lacking willpower,” and there’s nothing wrong with you. Your body was doing exactly what it was designed to do.
In fact, we can all be grateful that our bodies respond in this way—because the human race would have died out long ago if we didn’t have this built-in protection from starvation!
With all this evidence that diets don’t work, both from science and from your own lived experience (as we discussed in Day 3), it just doesn’t make sense to stay stuck in the diet mentality.
Logically, we now know we can’t outsmart biology. But just knowing something logically isn’t enough in those tough moments, where it’s so easy to slide back into the diet mentality.
What we need is a bridge from our old thoughts to our new ones, which is what we’ll discuss in the following journal exercise.
Journal Exercise 1
Practice noticing and writing down your diet-mentality thoughts, and then consciously replacing them with a new thought.
Write back to each diet-mentality thought from a non-diet mentality, to firmly but compassionately refute them.
If it’s hard to come up with responses, think about what you would tell a friend in the same situation—someone you loved who was struggling with self-judgment about food and their body.
Try to draw upon everything we’ve discussed today and in Day 3, tapping into your own intuition and self-compassion.
Think of this as a dialogue between your disordered self (the part that’s still stuck in the diet mentality) and your healthy self or intuition (the part that wants you to be happy and free from pain).
The more you can strengthen your intuition and turn up the volume on its voice, the more you’ll be able to start pushing back against the diet-mentality thoughts consistently, whenever they arise.
By the way, if the new non-diet thoughts don’t feel authentic right now, that’s totally normal. What we’re doing here is creating new neural pathways in the brain—basically teaching your mind to think in new ways.
Those new thoughts will become strong and automatic over time, with consistent practice—just like learning any new skill. So keep at it, and don’t give up if it feels like you’re just going through the motions for a while.
Check out these podcast episodes for more on why dieting doesn't work, and why rejecting the diet mentality is such an important principle of intuitive eating.