How to Break Free from the “Diet Mentality” (May 2017)
As we are in spring, there are messages everywhere reminding us that it’s time to “get in shape for summer,” “start working on our beach bodies,” and “lose all of that winter padding.” Our society has such an obsession with dieting that January is known as “National Dieting Month.” The constant push to have our bodies fit in with the societal ideal becomes even stronger as the weather warms, adding pressure to the thoughts that we need to change or “fix” our body. This “diet mentality” can be very persuasive and tempting, as everyone exclaims that it “really works” and “changed their life” without touching on the reality of diet behaviors and the negative impacts they can have on your mental, emotional, and physical health.
Those that have hit “rock bottom” in the trenches of the diet world often realize, after gaining the weight back, that diets do not work. In fact, they may actually cause you to gain weight and, while they may improve our health short-term, and can do more damage to your health each time you engage in the dieting rollercoaster.
Has anyone ever noticed that, when we deprive ourselves of different foods and food groups, your caffeine consumption increases? Perhaps you are irritable, short-tempered, less likely to socialize and more tired than usual? This is because diets starve our brain of the various micro and macronutrients that we need, such as carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. Similarly, supplements do not provide the energy we need either! Dieting causes us to deprive ourselves of the nutrients we need most, all of which come from, you guessed it, “Vitamin F:” FOOD!
Diets also create disordered thinking, disordered eating, food rules and the fear of various foods and/or food groups. In this vain, they do more harm than good and these harmful behaviors can result in hair loss, nails breaking, excessively dry skin, and lack of menstruation, just to name a few. The diet industry, of course, does not mention these fun and seductive potential side-effects. With all of the negative impacts dieting can have, I think it’s important to offer some tips on how to avoid the diet culture and life a happier and healthier life.
To begin, stop reading any book or magazine that discusses how to change your body. Whether the article or book is focused on long or short-term change doesn’t matter, do not allow any space in your mind or life for publications that make you feel as if you need to change yourself. Instead, immerse yourself in reading about travel, decorating, psychology, or cars, anything that you find interesting and inspiring. Don’t spend time reading things that involve changing your physique or provide food ideas that suggest making meals or snacks in a low-calorie manner. I am suggesting reading material that isn’t for a quick fix and, instead, feeding your mind with information about things that motivate and entertain you.
Next, learn to discuss topics with friends and co-workers that do not involve food or weight. People seem to make casual comments, either positive or negative, about other people’s bodies and what they do, or should, look like. Even when people are well-intentioned and believe they are referring to weight in a scientific manner, they can be misguided. For example, when people refer to other’s Body Mass Index (BMI). This is calculated by dividing one’s weight in kilograms by the square of one’s height in meters and is used as the standard determination of “fatness” for many doctors. However, BMI is an inaccurate measurement, as it doesn’t include various factors that contribute to weight and health including age, ethnicity, family genetics and years of dieting. BMI is not an indicator of health. BMI is a comparison of height and weight tables.
Learn how to develop hobbies and interests that are intellectually stimulating. Perhaps you have always been interested in studying a foreign language or learning how to play a musical instrument. These are a couple of ideas that can allow us to feed our minds and strengthen our knowledge and understanding of the world around us, not be sucked into the idea of being on a new diet. Diets are expensive, short lived, a waste of money and are not a fun or worthwhile conversation to have.
It is also important to change our focus, putting energy toward taking care of ourselves and our bodies instead of berating ourselves and restricting our diet. When we take care of ourselves, inside and out, this can allow us to feel better about ourselves. Important aspects of self-care can include: getting enough sleep, focusing on our mental well-being, creating boundaries with people that deplete our energy, consciously choosing what fuel we want to eat that will provide sufficient energy, and learning how to be in touch with ourselves to see what type of intuitive movement, if any, we like. These can all go a long way in helping us to lead happier, healthier lives that revolve around consistent and true wellness instead of temporary, perceived, wellness
Focusing on the above areas can allow us to feel more confident about ourselves as people and forget about ever wanting to go on a diet. Learning to accept ourselves and not compare ourselves to anyone else is important, as well. When we begin to know, and like ourselves, we move closer to being able to accept ourselves. I want to emphasize that no one is perfect, attempting to achieve perfection through diet and exercise fads is a fool’s errand. The fad, and its results, are temporary but the harm it can cause to your mind and body can last much longer. It is important to invest in who we are as people, not what we look like. Our personality will continue to shine and glow as we know and love ourselves. It’s important to remember that people don’t see the flaws we obsess over that make us so hard on ourselves. The next time you ask people what they like about you, I can assure you, it will be all character-related compliment , not your hair extensions, make up, or how many bicep curls you can do. Try to see yourself as your loved ones do, treat yourself as compassionately as you would treat your close friends, and love yourself unconditionally.
I hope this has given you some perspective on the many reasons to give up dieting. Forget the restrictions and the societal pressure to form yourself to an impossible ideal. Instead, use these tips to work on being kinder to yourself on this journey to being “freed” from the difficult and confusing messages that we hear in today’s society about food and body.