Welcome. This is the first article in a series entitled Natural Eating 101 where we will focus on the diet mentality. Natural eating refers to an easy and peaceful relationship with food where you simply eat when you’re physically hungry, stop when you’re comfortably full, make honoring choices about what you eat overall, and have any food in moderation. No guilt. No shame. No sneaking, hiding, binging, restricting, purging. When you eat naturally, your body comes to its natural weight without rigorous exercise programs and without dieting or restricting. And it stays there.
With natural eating, you can have any amount of any food(s) around you at any time and you don’t feel the slightest urge to overeat/binge. You can have a cupboard full of your “bad” or “trigger” or “binge” foods and forget all about them; so much so that they go bad and you have to throw them out! Truly. I have experienced this transformation myself and I have heard this very same statement from hundreds of clients who now live natural eating every day. If your relationship with food is not that, you’ve definitely come to the right place and you are definitely ready for the CEDRIC Method.
This week we are going to talk about The Diet Mentality. The following checklist is your own personal assessment tool to discern whether you have The Diet Mentality. Whether you engage in formal dieting (follow a program of some kind) or just don’t allow yourself to have certain foods because you need to lose weight, you are in The Diet Mentality. If you’ve been engaging in either of those approaches for more than 2 weeks, you will have already begun to lose your trust in your body’s signals of hunger and fullness and feel less comfortable just being around food and in your body. It’s ironic that this Diet Mentality that is meant to help us lose weight and feel better often sets us very quickly on a treadmill of food and weight preoccupation that can be very hard to get off of without support and guidance.
So, if this topic hits home with you at all and you’d like your relationship with food and your weight to feel more secure and confident and peaceful, I encourage you to stay tuned as we explore the key tools and information you need to step out of The Diet Mentality completely and forever and live in that peaceful place we call Natural Eating.
The following is a handout that I give to most of my clients as it helps them to identify certain ways of thinking and behaving that they may just think are normal or even a part of who they are but which are actually learned thoughts and behaviours that are a part of the harmful Diet Mentality.
This is a short list to give you the gist and help you to begin separating healthy behaviours from harmful ones. In my book “Food is not the Problem: Deal With What Is” there are many pages dedicated to identifying and shifting The Diet Mentality in you if you’d like more detail and tools than this article provides.
The Diet Mentality is a way of thinking that has been ingrained in us by messages we receive from our family and friends, from advertisements and media messages and from diet and exercise programs that we may have tried, or witnessed others trying, in the past or may currently be pursuing. These views about how we should look, feel and behave have become a part of our way of life. Without these guidelines, many of us feel like we would have no restrictions and would just let go and “go crazy” – eating whatever we wanted with no ability to control ourselves. What would follow, we fear, is uncontrollable weight gain. Sadly the truth is just the opposite. It is your restrictive actions and mindset that trigger your binges, not your binges triggering you to have to restrict. Let go of The Diet Mentality, and with very little redirection, you will find yourself listening to your body’s cues of hunger and fullness, eating well, and coming to a natural weight for your body.
At The CEDRIC Centre, we believe that true control comes from being able to trust yourself and your body around all foods and all situations. Outlined below is a list of behaviours and/or thoughts that epitomize The Diet Mentality. So long as you are clinging to any of these misconceptions, you will not be able to develop a trusting relationship with yourself and to truly overcome your obsession with food.
As you read the following characteristics of The Diet Mentality, make a note of the ones you have bought in to in the recent past.
- You restrict the amount of food that you are “allowed” to have. (This is regardless of your hunger level.)
- You feel obligated to eat what is placed in front of you – whether or not you like it and whether or not it is too much, therefore you have to be very careful about where you go to eat and who is with you or you know you will overeat.
- You label foods as good or bad – legal or illegal. You’ve had a “good day” or you’ve been “good” if you stuck to your diet and a “bad day” or you’ve been “bad” if you didn’t. Your moods fluctuate strongly in relation to how good or bad you’ve been (i.e. how much control you’ve exerted over what you’ve eaten, regardless of how hungry or how full you were.)
- You restrict eating to certain times of day – whether you are hungry or not. This means both eating at traditional mealtimes even when you are not hungry just because it’s dinner/lunch/breakfast, and not allowing yourself to eat after a certain time of day despite feelings of hunger.
- You engage in rigid, all-or-nothing thinking: You set strict goals and guidelines for yourself and if you waver from them or miss a step/day/meal, you feel like a failure and make harsh judgements about your lack of willpower and inability to follow a plan. Then, rather than figuring out why things went awry (because of course you assume it’s just that you lack willpower, didn’t try hard enough, etc.), you tell yourself you’re going to do the same diet starting tomorrow. That’s the definition of insanity: continue to persist at something that isn’t working without clearly identifying why it isn’t working and what you can/will do differently. So, no surprise. Tomorrow goes just like today and you end up feeling even more frustrated and stuck and self-critical. This is how we fall into full-blown eating disorders.
- Your weight is the central focus of your life: You base decisions about what you can have/do/be on how much weight you have lost or gained. Therefore, if you have gained a bit, you feel deserving of punishment and will attempt to restrict yourself or isolate yourself. If you have lost weight, you feel more deserving of “treats” and feel more positive self-regard.
- Exercise: If you don’t do it, you judge yourself as lazy or worthless and feel intense negativity and disgust towards yourself/your body. If you do exercise, it often feels good but you continue to beat yourself up for not going more often. You set unrealistic expectations and rigid standards of how often you will go and what you will do when you do exercise that have no basis in reality if you stopped to look at your life (how much time and energy you actually have now) or your history (how often have you set these goals and not completed them, and again, what are you going to do differently this time to create a new outcome?). If these self-imposed standards are not met, you berate yourself repeatedly. Likewise, we may be inspired to exercise by feelings of fear of gaining weight or slipping into laziness and not for the benefits to our health. This inspiration is going to be short-lived because it’s for the wrong reasons.
- You catch yourself thinking about a family function or big party in the not too distant future and begin to daydream…. “If I lost x pounds per week for the next x weeks, I’d be a lot happier and more confident heading to the……and seeing …..” or worse – you begin to feel a cold sweat steal over your body and tell yourself you are not going to that function because you are just “too fat and who would want to see me anyway?” Either of these thought processes are The Diet Mentality because they are focused on you restricting in order to feel acceptable to others.
This list is not complete but you’ve likely got the gist of the Diet Mentality by now. Quite possibly you’ve been living your life this way for many years. Remember, if you’re using food to cope in any way, or dieting more for external validation and approval than you are for health, diets don’t work. Remember also that over 90% eating disorders begin with a diet.
So if you catch yourself thinking or behaving in any of these ways this week, just pause and remind yourself that this is The Diet Mentality and that it just keeps you stuck in the cycle of restriction and overeating. You can not achieve your goals for self-confidence and happiness this way. Let it go. Remind yourself that compassion and self-trust are the keys to overcoming your stressful relationship with food. If you are demonstrating compassion and trustworthiness to yourself, you are going to naturally see a big shift in your self-confidence and in your comfort around food and in your body.
More on that next week. Keep an eye open for any of these Diet Mentality thoughts and behaviours. Next week we’ll talk more about Natural Eating and how to get from here to there.