For the next few weeks in my articles, I’m going to be exploring each of the key points of what we call ‘The Diet Mentality.’ Each week I’m going to briefly explore one key characteristic of this harmful way of thinking and offer you a suggestion of something you can do that week to begin to directly address this issue if it something that you recognize in yourself. For this week though we’re going to start with an exploration of where The Diet Mentality comes from and some background on diets in general:
The Origin of Our Diet Mentality
The Diet Mentality is a way of thinking that has been ingrained in us by messages we receive predominantly from our primary caregivers and our peers. These messages are then often reinforced and enhanced by teachers, coaches, advertisements and media messages, and from diet and exercise programs that we may have tried in the past or may currently be pursuing.
It is easier to understand how we came to be where we are when we keep in mind that as children and adolescents, because we were limited by our brain’s inability to realize that not everything is about, or caused by, us, and because we had no other frame of reference than that of the family in which we were raised (and the community surrounding us), we had no contrast and therefore no ability to see clearly when our parents and peers, teachers and coaches were, themselves, confused in their thinking. We just believed that they were right and we followed blindly and innocently along. (For a more detailed article on brain development and its impact on our lives , and our relationship with food please see: http://www.cedriccentre.com/blog/lets-talk-about-your-brain/)
When, as children, we are fortunate to have caregivers and peers who, overall, pursue life from a moderate and rational perspective we naturally learn to see this as ‘right’ and naturally emulate this behavior and take up their moderate and rational beliefs as our own. This feeling of rightness is often reinforced overall by an inner sense of integrity – things just make sense and feel right – and by the positive and welcoming response we receive from most of the people we interact with.
When, however, when the flip side is true and we have key people in our lives who behave in ways that are confused or extreme we, not knowing any better and naturally seeking their approval, take up those behaviours and ways of thinking as though they are the ‘right’ or even, the only, ways to think and be. And even though this ‘right’ doesn’t really feel ‘right’ we buy it hook line and sinker. We don’t have enough experience with things feeling truly peaceful and right and don’t have the ability at that stage in our development and our dependence (we can’t just leave home at the age of 5 or 9 or 12) to argue for what we feel intuitively is right and wrong. And so we start to tell ourselves that something is ‘right’ even when it feels wrong. We begin to create an outer persona/reality and our own, sequestered and very silent inner truth. Unfortunately we are forced to assume that our inner sense is wrong and that what “they” say is right. And when our peers, or culture or society reinforces this message directly and indirectly through their actions towards themselves or towards us (“In order to be loved and happy you have to be the smartest, fastest, thinnest, nicest and most beautiful and stylish too.”) it just becomes a ‘fact,’ a fundamental truth that we don’t even think to question, even if it makes us feel bad and anxious and like a total failure all the time.
From this confused perspective and the inner anxiety it creates we keep trying to do the ‘right’ thing and don’t understand why people don’t seem to like us or appreciate what we’re doing. We don’t get why, no matter what we do, it never seems to be ‘enough’ to make that person happy or to gain their approval and the connection we so desperately seek. So, we assume it’s something about us; something ‘wrong’ with us. We’re not trying hard enough. We’re just not good enough. And so we try harder. Only problem is, we keep trying the same old thing that, unbeknownst to us, got us in this pickle in the first place.
And that, dear readers is how you came to be as you are: You received some confused messages about food, weight, and where your worth comes from, supplemented by peers, teachers, and a community that grew up with the same confused messages that they never learned to doubt or question. It’s a perfect case of the blind leading the blind really: A few folks getting rich off our confused attempts to be slim, healthy and happy. The rest of us struggling through each day feeling like failures and lazy slobs because we can’t starve ourselves enough or exercise enough to finally enter that Nirvana we call ‘good enough.’
You’re here for a solution to this, right? Good, because I’m here to teach you one. In short, the solution to finding ourselves in a new, confident and truly fulfilling place in all aspects of our lives (food, body image, relationships, career etc.) lies in learning to see clearly when we’re buying in to an old bogus ‘truth’ and, with our adult, rational brains question whether it actually makes any sense and whether we want to keep believing it or not.
Diets and the whole weight loss and ‘thin is in’ craze comprise one of these old core beliefs that have become our ‘truth.’ The good news is that when questioned with an adult, rational brain, The Diet Mentality can quickly be proven to be part of the problem and can be overcome and left behind once and for all.
What takes its place is a simple, clear, solid perspective we at The CEDRIC Centre (and certain other like-minded folks out there) like to call Natural Eating. With Natural Eating we wait until we’re hungry to eat, eat until we’re comfortably full, allow anything in moderation and in so doing sustain a healthy and normal weight for our body without dieting or rigorous exercise regimes. Rest assured we’re going to explore Natural Eating fully in the weeks to come, and specifically how to get there from here.
But first, let’s get you good and clear on where ‘here’ is. And we’re going to do that by first exploring some statistics and background on dieting and then we’re going to explore the basic tenets of The Diet Mentality that, however unwittingly, you must agree with on some level if you struggle with a stressful relationship with food or weight.
The clearer you are on what you’re doing to sustain your stress and frustration the easier it will be for you to see it when it happens and apply a new, simple thought or action that leads you away from binging, purging or restriction (anorexia or dieting in general) and towards that heavenly place we call Natural Eating.
Reality Check Time: The Truth About Diets
We’ve all seen the Kirstie Alley ads for Weight Watchers. We saw her slimming down right before our eyes, all the while happily telling us that Weight Watchers was the answer. What we weren’t given an equal opportunity to see so much of were any publicity photos after she gained all that weight back. Funny that. Maybe those commercials were on while I was in the shower or something? … Maybe not.
In our culture, wherever we turn, we are inundated with photos of sexy women swimming inside pants that are now 10 sizes too large for them. Again, what we typically don’t see is a picture of the same person a year later. There’s a good reason for that.
You see the truth is that only 2% of people who lose weight on diets keep it off for more than a year. In fact, the only diet with any statistics to show it actually helps people lose weight is Weight Watchers, and they can boast just one study, conducted in 2005, that shows that a group of participants in the Weight Watchers program lost around 5 percent (about 10 pounds) of their initial weight in six months and kept off about half of it two years later. Really people? That’s the best stat you have?
With the billions of dollars that the diet industry takes in from us desperate and trusting consumers every year you’d think they could finance a little more research to prove the effectiveness of the snake oil they’re selling! Or maybe there’s a reason they don’t have more studies? Maybe, like so many cult leaders and snake oil salesmen of the past and present they know that they don’t have any proof to back up their claims, but they also know that we have been taught not to question or doubt these things.
Jenny Craig says her program works. The ads show people losing weight so surely that means it works, right? And that means if I can’t lose weight and keep it off on that program I am a lazy, stupid slob who can’t control herself and doesn’t really care about herself at all! Right!? Well, we’ll never know because we’re so bloody ashamed of our laziness and stupidity that we won’t even tell anyone that we ‘failed.’
How many times have you started a diet and not wanted any one to know in case it didn’t go so well? On the flip side, how many times have you started a diet and told someone to hold you accountable and not let you eat that tasty looking, calorie laden treat? Regardless, the message is the same: You don’t really trust yourself to do it do you?
And there’s a really good reason for that – and it’s not that you’re stupid, lazy or lacking will power I assure you. Read on.
Has it ever occurred to you to wonder why there are so many diets? If they worked why don’t they work in any lasting way for anyone you know? Why are your coworkers and family members always trying a new diet?
We often don’t dare to wonder about this. We’ve bought so fully into the “if it’s not working it’s your fault” story and we’re so busy feeling fat and stupid and shameful for our ‘lack of willpower’ that we just accept it as perfectly normal that everyone at work is on a diet, again.
One of my favorite quotes of all time is from a mentor of mine, Barbara Sher. She says, “When too many people fail a requirement, there’s nothing wrong with the people, there’s something wrong with the requirement.” Right on Barbara! Ain’t that the truth! Think about it.
Let’s explore this in a little more detail with a look at some basic statistics to do with diets and weight loss. Now, stop and breathe; really slow down for a moment and take this in. You’ll find it very enlightening and freeing if you do.
And please feel free to print this article off and post it on the lunchroom fridge – and on your fridge – and, while we’re at it sneak on over to your mom’s and tape one to her fridge too!
Some Basic Statistics on Eating Disorders and Dieting
The facts speak for themselves. It is a known fact that most efforts to control weight through calorie restriction result in only very short-term weight loss, and, often ultimately lead to weight gain. Funny, how the diet industry and pill peddlers don’t mention this in their commercials and magazine ads. Things that make you go…Hmmmm.
- “Dieting for weight loss is often associated with weight gain, due to the increased incidence of binge-eating.” Field, A. E., Austin, S. B., Taylor, C. B., Malpeis, S., Rosner, B., Rockett, H. R., Gillman, M. W. & Colditz, G. A. (2003). Relation between dieting and weight change among pre-adolescents and adolescents. Pediatrics, 112(4), 900-906,
Stice, Cameron, R. P., Killen, J. D., Hayward, C. & Taylor, C. B. (1999). Naturalistic weight-reduction efforts prospectively predict growth in relative weight and onset of obesity among female adolescents. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 67, 967-974.
- Adolescent girls who diet are at 324% greater risk for obesity than those who do not diet. (Stice et al., 1999). (Did you get that!? 324%??? Of course they are at greater risk for obesity! The diets teach them to ignore the natural signals of their body and the restriction naturally triggers them to overeat when they next get around food. It’s a natural cycle found in any species, not just adolescent females. It’s just not outcome that the innocent and confused dieting teen is hoping for.)
- In a study published in 2003 in the journal Pediatrics, researchers at Harvard Medical School found that adolescents who dieted put on more weight than those who did not diet over a three year period.
- A review of 10 of the nation’s most popular weight-loss programs found that except for Weight Watchers, none of them offer any proof that they actually work at helping people shed pounds and keep them off.
- Only Weight Watchers had strong documentation that it worked — with one study showing that participants lost around 5 percent (about 10 pounds) of their initial weight in six months and kept off about half of it two years later. Diet Plan Success Tough to Weigh, Christine Lagorio for CBS News, January 3, 2005
Isn’t it startling when you stop and think that at the same time that there are more diet centres and diet books and low fat this and low carb that than ever before in the history of humanity, the incidence of eating disorders and dieting are on the rise? Doesn’t that just make you go, hmmm?
Well, while you’re ‘hmmm-ing,’ why not add these stats to your musings:
- 80% of 10 year old girls have tried dieting at least once.
- Over 90% of all eating disorders, whether overeating, restricting or purging (now labeled as Binge Eating Disorder; Bulimia; Anorexia and Orthorexia) begin with a diet.
- 1 in 3 women have been on more than 10 diets in their lives; (OMG! 33.333333+% of us keep beating our heads against a brick wall!)
- And yet, the average woman can stick to a diet for only 2 weeks at a time; (Yes, you read that right! Only 2 weeks. So, you’re not lazy and you don’t lack willpower, you’re just normal!)
- Only 9% of women never diet! (No wonder women think it is normal to focus on food and restriction!). Statistics from Women’s Health Magazine, January/February 2010 Issue, WomensHealthMag.com
Well, there you have it. The truth about diets. Not a pretty sight. But at least you know you’re not crazy! They don’t work. And it’s not because taking in less calories than you expend is not a way to lose weight. Obviously if you take in less calories than you expend you will lose weight. That’s not a disputed fact.
What is not mentioned by the diet programs and their cronies is that unless you learn to balance your life (healthy meals, moderate exercise, functional relationships, financial security etc.); manage your stress with life-enhancing measures; and understand how certain foods influence your body you will continue to ricochet back and forth between restricting and binging and your weight will continue to be a source of stress and frustration.
Diets teach you what to think, not how to think. They don’t show you how to handle life. They don’t show you how to figure out what’s making you want to eat or restrict or purge in the first place. They don’t help you to understand why you have those extra pounds on your body anyway.
I’m here to teach you how to think. I want you to feel confident in your ability to sort out any problem or stressor that comes you way, whether it be what to eat or how to tell your boss that you want a raise or how to talk to your partner about a big relationship problem.
The underlying process of clear thinking and solid decision making is the same regardless of the issue.
So, off we go! Over the next few months we’ll explore the ins and outs of your relationship with food and how it influences, and is influenced by, every other aspect of your life.
For this week I want to invite you to just notice how prevalent the diet mentality is in your home, in your community, at work, in your family, and in your mind. How often do you hear yourself judging your body and thinking that it needs to change? How often do you judge your food choices or tell yourself you have to restrict yourself?
Just notice. Next week we’ll talk about a core element of the diet mentality and what you can do to start to shift it.
Have an insightful week,