Updated: Oct 29, 2020
The principles of intuitive eating are simple to understand, the difficulty comes when applying these principles in your life, but when you do, you will find a sense of balance and food freedom once and for all.
The first principle of intuitive eating is to reject the diet mentality. And I’m talking reject like it is a stage five clingy ex-boyfriend. Get those thoughts out of your head that the next best diet is around the corner waiting to be discovered. Trust me, there will always be a new (and ridiculously unsustainable) diet trend that comes along and trust me, it is not going to solve your weight loss problems once and for all. The diets are the problem, not you.
For many people, the thought of not being on a diet is a scary thing and it is totally normal to feel anxious about not counting your calories anymore. Especially when it seems like everyone is doing it and you feel the pressure to do so too. It will be hard to step out of the diet culture norms and rediscover eating intuitively, but I promise you the end result is SO worth the effort.
Rejecting the diet mentality includes rejecting diet like behaviors and thoughts that may linger, even if you currently are not following a strict diet or workout plan. Counting carbohydrates, filling up on zero calorie foods/drinks, second guessing if you deserve to eat, and comparing what you're eating with what someone else on a diet is has all got to go. And I mean it! Get these thoughts and actions out of your life and you will start to feel freed. Now I get that it’s easier said than done when you’ve been following this mentality for so long, so I’m going to help by breaking down the steps it takes to begin rejecting the diet mentality.
Recognize and acknowledge the damage that dieting causes.
There is significant research to prove dieting causes not only physical, but emotional damage to our bodies and minds. Chronic dieting has been shown to slow metabolism down and teaches the body to retain more fat when you begin eating normally again. It also leads to an increased drive to binge and have cravings. You always want what you’re not supposed to have on a diet, right? Other more serious physical side effects that can occur with dieting include menstrual irregularities, hair loss, and compromised bone health.
When it comes to the emotional and mental health side of things, dieting is associated with decreased self-trust, self-confidence, and it is linked to eating disorders. It truly breaks my heart to hear cases of young girls who are falling into the traps of the dieting world that lead them to disordered eating at such young ages. This is part of the drive I have as a dietitian to promote an intuitive eating approach and show women how to be confident in their food choices/bodies to break free from the stupid rules dieting makes us believe we need to follow to look like supermodels.
Do you often find yourself more stressed on a diet for the fact that you have all of these rules to follow, grams to measure out, calories to count, and oh don't even think about going out to eat! That's way too stressful when you're on a diet... The unnecessary stress that comes along with dieting is not good for your mental health. And let's be real, life is stressful enough as it is, why is there a need to complicate it more with what we are eating.
Be aware of diet mentality traits and thinking
“I just need more willpower” is a comment that I have heard from many clients and chronic dieters. Your doctor doesn’t certainly can't expect you to “will” your cholesterol levels to normal... just as you shouldn’t be expected to “will” your way to weight loss or blame your inability to loose weight on your lack of willpower. It is completely normal to desire sweets. Depriving yourself of them because your diet tells you that you can't have them is only going against your natural desire. Willpower does not belong in intuitive eating, nor do you need to blame your ‘lack of it’ for eating foods you enjoy. Forget willpower, it does not belong in intuitive eating.
Know that you are not a failure
Forget feeling like a failure because you are not able to follow through with your unrealistic diet. I hear so many people talking about their food choices shamefully and doubting that they will ever have success on (insert diet here). The whole problem with dieting is that is reinforces feelings of either success or failure, there is no in between. The good thing about intuitive eating is there is no option for failure. What you may view as a failure in the dieting world, will instead be seen as a growth experience in intuitive eating.These growth experiences little by little will allow you to find food freedom.
*Keep tabs if these diet mentality traits and thoughts from above come into play in your daily life as you start to practice intuitive eating. Realize that you need to adjust your thought process when these thoughts and actions do happen to make sure you stay away from playing the dieting game.
Get rid of the dieter’s tools
Yes, I'm talking the scales here (both food and body). Many people weigh themselves first thing when they wake up. Yes it is true you are likely going to be at your lowest weight during this time because of this crazy concept that you haven't eaten anything yet!!! Our bodies are meant to fluctuate any given 5-10lbs in a day depending on your hydration status, if you’ve gone to the bathroom, if you have eaten, where you are at in your cycle (females), if you worked out (even the day before), etc. This number does not define you and this number should not be setting your mood for your day ahead. The scale does you no good if it puts you in a frustrated or sad mood because the number isn't what you want it to be. You are much better off starting your day with a few positive affirmations about yourself to set your day off on a productive note.
When it comes to the food scale, this is a tool that can easily become an obsession when tracking your food intake. While it can be beneficial to learn what serving sizes look like, most of the time it is used for those who are tracking their calories or macros. I’ve seen bodybuilding figures on social media who have posted about taking their food scales with them to restaurants just to stay on track?! Now if you consider that living your life to the fullest, so be it. But heck, I certainly want to enjoy my food when it comes to the table and not have to pause to measure it out to know exactly what I am eating...
Be compassionate to yourself
The endless pursuit of thinness is idolized by diet culture. It is hard to refrain from being pulled in when the claimed benefits of diets are so appealing and sound like the solution to all of your problems in life. It will take time to let go of this desire. It is hard to grasp and accept that the pursuit of dieting is inevitably futile. Show yourself compassion when you are trying to make this large mindset shift. It is not going to be perfect and it is not going to be easy, but beating yourself up over it is not going to make it any better. If you start to get lured into the dieting pitfalls again, know that you can always pull yourself back out and dust yourself off. Practicing compassion and positive self-talk in these challenging situations is going to be key to your success with intuitive eating.
You certainly can't rush into intuitive eating with the mentality that overnight all of your diet thoughts/actions will change. Making small and gradual changes when it comes to rejecting the diet mentality will allow this process to become easier with continued practice. Keep working at it and don't give up on yourself! I hope this post helps you to get started on your journey to reject the diet mentality. Stay tuned for the next intuitive eating principle.