Why You Hate Dieting But Can't Let It Go

In working with clients I have seen a lot of women who have a major aversion to the idea of “giving up” dieting. When I share my own food journey with them, they immediately connect to it. “Yes! That is exactly what I do! You GET it!” But when I make it clear that my program is not a diet and, in fact, my philosophy around food is averse to traditional dieting, I can see the dread in their eyes.

They agree that traditional dieting has not served them well; it has not helped them attain (or sustain) their goals; and it’s usually affiliated with some level of resentment.

Ugh. I can’t {insert enjoyable experience here}. I'm on a diet.

I understand that dread. After all, while that diet has not helped them find a sense of ease around food or a love for their bodies, it has provided them with a sense of security that they don’t want to let go of.

The notion of eating without rules is so foreign to some of us that it can be downright scary.

What would that even look like? How will I know what to eat? Won’t I just eat brownies and pizza all day if there are no rules to follow?

No. You won’t. But let's come back to that later.

Remember that line in the film Knotting Hill where Julia Roberts' character jokes how she’s “been on a diet every day since I was nineteen, which basically means I've been hungry for a decade”? It’s funny until you realize that it’s actually very realistic for a lot of women.

I was consistently dieting in some form from the age of 15 to 29. It covered the basics: Weight Watchers, South Beach, eating only non-fat foods; Nutri System (the one where you microwave preservative-laden “food” 3 times a day). I lost weight and gained it back multiple times - nothing uncommon. Whatever the form of the diet, I inevitably wavered between feeling good when I ate the minimal amount recommended and becoming deeply depressed when one "misstep" sent me straight into a binge, feeling wildly out of control.

Weight loss has an extremely high recidivism rate. In other words, studies suggest that of those who are successful in losing weight on a diet, more than 90% of them gain that weight back. My point is not to diminish the success that some have (if you find something that works for you, that's awesome!) or to imply that weight loss is impossible. But I do think it’s critical that people understand that the failure of a diet to produce the long term results you want is not a reflection on you. Dieting is not a long term solution for most people. You are NOT a failure. You do NOT lack willpower. You are NOT lazy or pathetic. What you ARE, in fact, is very normal.

To me, that indicates that we need to explore different means by which to achieve our goals. After dieting for over 15 years (which was more than half of my life at that point), I had to face the reality that what I was doing was not working. And if it hadn't worked for 15 years, it probably never would.

That was a life-changing realization for me so I think it bears repeating. If it didn’t work for the last 15 years, it wasn’t going to work in the next year or 5 or 10. The magic diet was not right around the corner.

So why is it we hold onto the belief that “this time” dieting will work? As I mentioned, there is feeling of security attached to following a set of rules. We are told that by following those rules, we can get a desired outcome. When it doesn't work? Well, it’s because we didn’t follow it perfectly enough. There is no where to place the blame other than on yourself which leads you down a horribly familiar path of self-loathing and guilt, and often face first in the pint of ice cream.

This is why I work with clients on a long term, non-dieting approach to nutrition. In my mind, dieting means that you assign specific rules to foods and food groups based on an intellectual idea rather than based on how those foods make your body feel. Typically this involves a good deal of restriction, whether that means restricting certain groups of foods, limiting food intake to a set number of calories/points/colors, or assigning judgments to foods - good foods and bad foods; good eating days and bad ones.

I’ve done all of it. And truth be told, I’m still a work in progress. I often still feel terrible guilt and shame when I eat foods I once categorized as “bad.” The difference is that I now tune into my body and remind myself that foods have no value outside of how they make me feel, how they nourish me, energize or deplete me.

I am no “better” a person for eating kale and no less of one for eating pizza. But those rules were ingrained in me for much of my life and there is no off switch. Those thoughts will continue to creep in but I will continue to do my best to remind myself that what I eat does not warrant judgment, just the recognition of how it impacts my body.

I believe there is a difference between avoiding dairy on a regular basis because you find you have a sensitivity to it that causes discomfort, bloating, fogginess, etc. versus deciding to be dairy free because you read that "dairy is bad". But putting those beliefs into practice takes effort and work. It takes the same work that you put into your daily yoga practice or your 21 day diet – in fact, it probably takes more because it means working every day at reversing long-held beliefs that are no longer serving you.

If you take one thing away from this article, I hope you will be honest with yourself. If your approach to food and your body has not worked for you to date, why are you still holding onto it? I'd love for you to share in the comments below.

Or set up a FREE 1:1 coaching call with me to discuss a long-term, non-diet approach to your life.