When you decide to go on a diet, it may feel like there is such a positive intention behind it. You’re going to change the way you eat, you’re going to be healthier, you’re going to exercise more. These all sound so great, don’t they? But when you really sit back and think about how dieting really makes you feel and the true impact that is has, does it really feel good?
This was a question that was asked in the Mother and Daughter Intuitive Eating Workshop that I co-led with a wonderful therapist and colleague of mine. Within the time we spent together, we discussed several topics related to body image and dieting that I will unpack in these next few weeks. One of three main topics we discussed was what impact was experienced with dieting. These were some of the comments, “Gaining more weight.” “Abusing yourself.” “Ove-analyzed mind.” “Depression.” “Frustration, unfair.” “Low self-esteem.” “Feeling unworthy/bad as you are.” “Disconnection and devaluing your body.” “Ignoring your feelings.” “Fear of failure.” “No freedom because of counting calories or points.” “A list of don’ts and restrictions.” “Having no freedom but craving that high the diet can give you.” “Not really loving yourself, making yourself someone you’re not.” “Confusion, hunger, beat yourself up, not fitting in.” “Constantly feeling guilty if you “break” the diet.” “Anxiety.” “Diet, fail, remorse, repeat.”
So if dieting was so good for us, why would it be experienced in this way? There wasn’t one positive thing mentioned about dieting from these women. Of all the impacts listed, only one impact was about the body. Dieting does cause eventual weight gain in 1-5 years of weight loss. Studies have shown it lowers metabolism, creates a disconnection from your body cues, increases the rate in fatty tissue gain, and decreases muscle mass.
See, what these women brought to light was the real impact that is felt. The psychological damage that dieting leaves imprinted, long after the diet is over. It is feeling anxiety, low self-esteem, depression and unworthy. The things that no one is talking about when they are talking about dieting, at the pool, in the breakroom or the gym locker room.
When you go on a diet, you set yourself up with too little calories, cutting out an entire food group or macronutrient.You have a long list of the foods that are “bad” and that you can’t have. You place all these restrictions and rules on yourself that go against what your body innately wants and needs. But when you are on a diet, it is all about the “willpower” you have to fight this. It is the willpower that is praised and applauded and gives you this “high” that you are resisting and not having what others are eating.
It is important to point out how the diet industry has created this relationship. The multi-billion-dollar industry has worked its way into these vulnerable, fragile, non-confident places and has made you believe that you are not enough. That your body needs to be thinner, fitter or just plain better than it is now. Maybe your culture or social circle talks about this, maybe it doesn’t, but there isn’t a person in this society who hasn’t be impacted in some way about what is fed by this industry.
Dieting is plastered everywhere on social media, tv, magazines and is “all the talk on the latest trends.” Its inescapable. But it is important to really look at what is true impact of dieting is.
Why does it feel like it is the only answer? Why doesn’t feel that you need a plan or diet to “know how to eat.” Maybe the foods or rules change, or it’s dressed up in wellness, but in the end, it’s still a diet.
The comments that were shared by these women brings me such sadness to hear. But there were three comments that really stuck out to me. “The disconnection and devaluing your body,” “ignoring your feelings,” and “not loving yourself, making yourself into someone you are not.”
There is a common thread with these three comments. It is all about this separation from yourself, more exactly that authentic, true self. The authentic self is that part of you that is always there talking, speaking, guiding you to who you truly are. It is the part of you that recognizes that there is this disconnection, ignoring and making yourself into someone that you are not. Its why the diets don’t feel the same as time goes on. Its why the mental space and strength to go another diet can feel so heavy. This is the true you, talking and guiding you to look at things a different way.
When your thoughts are entrenched in changing your body, loosing weight, fitting into those old pair of jeans, you get swallowed up into a world that only revolves around never being enough. It consumes so much of your thoughts and mental well-being. This is what brings the anxiety and depressive feelings. You can feel so trapped by the diet cycle, so frustrated with your body. You know dieting is not the answer. It doesn’t fit anymore. It doesn’t work, but what will? This creates the feelings of despair.
But if you take the time to quiet yourself from the storm of confusion, hunger and body war, you will see that there is another way. It’s listening to that part of you that is telling you that you can NOT go another diet. It’s listening to that part of you that reminds you what the true impact of dieting is. It’s the part of you that is willing to let go of the rules. It’s the part of you that will fight the judgement with curiosity and compassion. It’s the part of you that finds kindness with yourself in place of the fight.
You see, each of us has an authentic self. Finding that part requires work. It requires honesty. It requires forgiveness of yourself, and others. It requires the willingness to look at all those dark shadows that have covered up and “protected you” from that true you that lies within. When you let go of dieting and start to trust that authentic you, you become a little braver, a little kinder and a little more free, to see who it is, you are truly meant to be.