5 Ways Being Anti-Diet Benefits Your Mental Health

Let’s be honest: it is stressful AF to count calories and negotiate when and what you can eat. How many times have you stared at a menu and wondered what you would order that you had enough calories for? Or even worse, searched for the lowest calorie item on the menu? All that suppressing your appetite and desire is taxing, and super unsatisfying too.

The anti-diet movement rejects the idea that being thin makes one worthy. We can have food freedom and body acceptance, all without spending our precious time inputting what we eat into an app.

However, anti-diet is NOT anti-health. Anti-diet emphasizes health-promoting behaviors. It focuses on a whole person rather than reducing someone to their size and focusing on thinness. Here’s why being anti-diet is beneficial to your mental health – plus how to embrace an anti-diet life.

why being anti diet benefits your mental health

Being anti-diet quiets your inner critic

Categorizing food as “good” or “bad” places morality where it doesn’t belong. “Bad” food comes with a side of guilt. With guilt comes restricting food and/or exercising to “work it off,” which robs you of pleasure of exercise too. 

Removing moral value from food removes the internal morality you are placing on yourself, like “I’m disgusting, I shouldn’t have eaten that.” Reframing food as neutral frees up your thoughts, allowing you to quiet your inner critic.

You’ll find contentment and self-acceptance

The definition of being on a diet is eating less food or only particular kinds of food in order to lose weight. There is no amount of mental gymnastics you can do to find self-acceptance, let alone happiness, while on a diet. Dieting translates in your mind to “I am not good enough as I am.” When you are waiting to be a different, smaller version of yourself, you are waiting for some feeling of happiness to occur.

Spoiler alert: it won’t. Living the life you want, in the body you have, is the fastest way to acceptance and happiness. 

Being on a diet represses your desires – unsuccessfully

Ever hear of the White Bear experiment? Basically, the more you try not to think of something, the more you think of that thing. On a diet, you have to actively suppress your desires to avoid eating the foods you want – and that takes a lot of time and energy. No matter how much you try to convince yourself that cauliflower bread is satisfying, it isn’t!

On the other hand, eating what you want leads to satisfaction. When you sub in a replacement for what you really want, you’ll often find yourself still hungry because you aren’t satisfied. We eat to satiate hunger and for satisfaction, so why deny yourself that joy?

Restriction leads to binge eating

“Research suggests that women and girls who diet are 12 times more likely to binge eat.”  It sounds counterintuitive, but the more you restrict food, the harder it will be to control yourself around it. Binging doesn’t happen because we are “addicted to food.” Binging happens because we restrict food.

The restrict-binge cycle creates another internal battle with oneself, often creating a secret life. We allow food to occupy too much of our mental space, but there’s much more important things to focus on!. 

Where’s the joy in being on a diet?

When someone dieting says, “I’ll have that omelet but no cheese, no oil, and egg whites only,”, it sucks the fun out of going out to eat. Being able to order delicious food spontaneously is an experience. Traveling and tasting the local fare is part of the fun. True pleasure around food can only be experienced when all foods (within any medical limitations, like allergies) are allowed in your diet.

So, how can you embrace an anti-diet life?

Now that you see the benefits of of being anti-diet, how can you live an anti-diet life? Here are some ways to get started.

Trust that you are good enough as you are, today. 

Let go of the idea that you are not good enough. You are worthy of creating the life you want, right now, in the body you have. Nothing magical happens when you count calories. The magic happens when you release yourself from the constant criticism and punishment of focusing on weight. 

Practice positive self-talk

When you hear that negative voice creep in telling you that you “don’t look good” or your outfit isn’t “flattering” (let’s banish this word, btw), it’s time to call your inner hype girl and start practicing positive self-talk. Remind yourself that your purpose in life is not to look good. You are doing your best, you’re smart, funny, and you are a lot more than a body. Or simply ask yourself “what would I rather be thinking?” and answer the question.

View yourself for all the wonderful things you are instead of comparing yourself to others. Shifting our view of the world from what people are to who people are will free us up from the constant focus on bodies. 

Go buy your favorite foods

Allow yourself to have things you previously wanted, but deemed “bad” or a “treat.”  Dogs get treats, humans eat food. Keeping your house stocked with things that might scare you puts you in the position to have freedom around these foods and begin to trust yourself. 

Throw out your scale

Live in your body. Minimizing your worth to a number that changes frequently for a variety of reasons is toxic. There are very few circumstances where constantly knowing your weight is required. Under almost all circumstances constantly knowing your weight is unnecessary and distracting. Measure your worth based on things that you want to be doing and things you feel proud of. These will last longer than the fluctuating number on your scale. 

Imagine the freedom you’ll feel and the mental space you’ll gain when you embrace an anti-diet lifestyle – when you decide to live life as you are. Without calorie counting and assigning morality to food, you can just eat something and move on with your day. How cool is that? By refocusing your mental energy and rejecting thinness as an ideal, a whole world of inclusivity and freedom opens up to us.

Now, the only question is: what possibilities will you unlock with your anti-diet mindset?

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Mental Health Think & Feel

About Stephanie Roth-Goldberg

Stephanie Roth-Goldberg, LCSW, CEDS-S is a psychotherapist specializing in eating disorders. She is the founder of Intuitive Psychotherapy NYC, a small group psychotherapy practice focusing on treating eating disorders through an anti-diet, HAES lens. Stephanie works with athletes and the intersection of eating disorders and sports. Stephanie, a runner and triathlete herself is passionate about incorporating movement into eating disorder treatment to help folks feel empowered and connected to their bodies. She regularly presents on the subject of eating disorders and exercise. When Stephanie isn’t working, she can be found running around with her two children, writing, or triathlon training.