For decades, America has been a nation of serial dieters. And now that the pandemic has an end in sight, many turn to fad diets to take off their pandemic weight.
Here’s the usual scenario when you go on a diet: After one of your friends or relatives convince you to try their diet because it’s amazing, you try the diet. You lose some weight, agree that it’s amazing. In a few weeks, if that, you are craving something that is restricted. The craving overtakes you, you break the diet, and you decide to toss the diet out of the window because you can’t stand the restriction any longer. Any weight you took off comes right back on, in half the time it came off. Amiright?
“When it comes to any diets, even those that are viewed as ‘sustainable’ because they offer more flexibility — such as calorie counting or macro counting — is that diets simply do not work in the long run for the majority of people who do them.” said Lara Curry, a Certified Intuitive Eating Pro Lay Facilitator and Intuitive Eating Coach (find here on Instagram here). “The statistic is about 95 percent of people who lose weight on a diet gain it back, and honestly, I wonder if it’s even more than that!”
Fad diets are a business
“Please understand that fad diets are a business. They are created to make money and profit off your insecurities,” Bonastia tells us. “What fad diets do is take common nutritional wisdom and create rules around them to create a sense of being ‘good’ or ‘bad.’ This puts the onus back on the dieter, so that when failure inevitably occurs, it is perceived to be due to a character flaw, like not having enough willpower or determination.”
Diets are biologically and psychologically designed to fail. But because we are so desperate to lose weight, we ignore that reality and keep searching for the next big answer, the next diet solution, in the hope that we just haven’t found the right match yet. In that sense, fad diets are a goldmine—there is always a new version of dieting to create a trend around to sell more books, sell more programs, sell more memberships.
It kind of makes you want to start a fad diet business to make some money, huh? So how can you get off the diet cycle for good?
One great way to get off the diet cycle is by learning how to trust yourself and eating intuitively.
According to the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA), intuitive eating is about trusting your inner body wisdom to make choices around food that feel good in your body, without judgment and influence from diet culture. We are all born with the skill to eat, stop when we are full, eat when we are hungry, and eat satisfying foods.
“Getting off of the diet hamster wheel is a counterintuitive process because it sometimes involves feeling out of control with food for a while,” said Stefanie Bonastia, Certified Coach OTR/L and IE Counselor IT.
“When we give ourselves permission to eat what we want without guilt, there is often a period of feasting that typically ignites the diet-response. Being able to sit through that period of indulgence until your body’s natural intuition takes over again is important for long-term success.”
How to eat intuitively
So how does one adapt to eating intuitively? According to Bonastia, there are four steps:
1. Create awareness. Read books, listen to podcasts, follow social media accounts that reflect a non-diet philosophy and a weight-inclusive model of health.
2. Curate your social media feed to absorb less of the diet culture message and more images of body diversity, self-care, and mental health.
3. Identify the diet rules you are still holding onto and challenge them both in practice and mindset. Release the guilt around your food choices.
4. Enlist the support of a non-diet RD, coach, or therapist if you need more help. This is not an easy mindset shift, and there is no shame in working through some of this with a professional!
Other mindsets to stop the diet cycle
Curry points out some other steps you can take to get off the diet cycle for good.
- It’s important to realize that there is nothing wrong with the individual who feels as though there is something wrong with their body; it is a problem with all of society and diet culture that makes us believe or feel like we need to all be one size!
- Diversify your feed. Start to surround yourself on social media with people in all different-sized bodies who are living their best lives! There are many excellent accounts of different plus-size fashion bloggers and fitness influencers that can show you that you can look good, feel good, and fit in any size body.
- It is essential to realize that you can pursue health-promoting behaviors (such as getting enough sleep, managing your stress, eating nourishing foods, moving your body regularly, etc.) no matter what size you are. So take all of the focus off of your weight or body size and turn it instead to health-promoting behaviors is what matters most.
So… when you feel tempted to pursue a certain diet again, remind yourself of how the diet cycle ended every other time you tried that, and that 95 percent of people who intentionally lose weight gain it back!
Ultimately, you need to keep in mind that diet culture has convinced us that we all need to be stick thin, and that is just unrealistic. We should all be aiming to be healthy, not deprived, and comfortable in our bodies.
If you think you may be struggling with an eating disorder, the National Eating Disorders Association has many resources, including a help line with chat, call, and text options. It is strength, not weakness, to ask for help, so you are no longer a slave to food.