A quick survey of obesity statistics and annual spending on diet and weight loss products in this country tells us two things: we have a crisis of obesity, and the way in which we are attempting to treat it is not working.
According to Becca Clegg, a psychotherapist, eating disorder specialist and author of Ending The Diet Mindset: Reclaim a Healthy and Balanced Relationship with Food and Body Image the reason is that diets cause us to eat more, not less.
“Dieting leads us to feel terrible about ourselves, belittles our self-worth, decreases our motivation, and harms our bodies in the process,” writes Clegg.
Dieting also leads to destructive mindsets which drive our attitudes, beliefs, emotions, and behavior. In short, dieting turns us into a different person. We may adopt a pattern of deprivation where we are not allowed to eat what we really want, putting all of our favorite foods off limits.
The result, like Newton’s third law of motions, is an equal and opposite reaction.
“If you go on a diet that feels in any way restrictive, your automatic reaction is going to be equal in intensity, but in the opposite direction of that feeling of restriction. In other words, the more deprived you feel, the more the urge to eat will grow,” writes Clegg.
Overcoming deprivation starts with its opposite: abundance. Instead of teaching ourselves that food should be limited, we must experience food being plentiful – as well as ourselves feeling positive emotions while eating it.
And instead of taking foods away, Clegg tells us, we should be adding them to our list of foods we love to eat. Almost paradoxically, when we do this, our desire to eat too much and binge begins to dissipate.
“If you remove the original cause, the whole equation eventually loses its cause-and-effect relationship,” writes Clegg.
Our fears around food can be so extreme that we would rather rely on external knowledge instead of internal wisdom. Clegg quotes Geneen Roth, the author of Breaking Free From Emotional Eating:
“When we give up dieting, we take back something we were often too young to know we had given away: our own voice.”
Diets pretend to know what is best for us, so much so, that, over time, we don’t even realize what we need anymore.
“We believe, we follow, we try, and most often, we struggle. This struggle leads to what we perceive as failure and then total frustration,” writes Clegg.
What we should be doing is turning into our own wisdom, seeking our own counsel, and discovering our authentic voice. “I cannot emphasize this enough: forget the rules,” writes Clegg.
We are all born intuitively to know when we are hungry, when we are full, and what we enjoy eating, and we do have the ability to come to known this through being mindful, paying attention, and reconnecting to our wants and needs around food.
Being hypercritical of others as a way to elevate our own diminished self-worth is another way we may try to motivate ourselves to action.
“Most people approach changing habits from a place of shame or disgust,” writes Clegg.
Yet judging and comparing only confirms our own insecurity – that we are not good enough.
On the other hand, practicing compassion for ourselves, releases us from the power that judgmental attitudes can have over us, impacting ourselves, and those around us.
“Your decision to love yourself – to embrace kindness and make efforts to quiet the inner mean girl’s tyranny – not only changes your life, but it impacts humanity,” writes Clegg.
We can overcome rigidity and learn to accept that some foods we love and tend to overeat. The answer is not that we should either eat them or avoid them. Rather, we should practice dialectical thinking, or holding more than one truth about any one thing.
“With food, an example of a dialectic might be, “Go ahead and eat it!” alongside “Pause and be mindful before you eat,” writes Clegg.
Diets also don’t deliver on their promise of happiness. Change is not linear and it doesn’t equal happiness.
“People think that we start at a fixed point and that we move away from that point directly toward our goal. This is the biggest fallacy out there, change is not linear, yet we come to this belief honestly due to our conditioning,” writes Clegg.
Change involves starts and stops, twists and turns, gains and losses, successes and failures, and weaves it way inside us, uncovering our true, and only, path – the one that leads us to our center. What we might discover along the way, is that our hunger goes much deeper than our desire for food. It is our soul that needs feeding.
In a diet-saturated world that seems to create the very problem it proposes to solve, Ending the Diet Mindset proposes a radical alternative: to change your diet, you must change your perspective on dieting. And to change yourself, you must start from the inside, with your relationship with yourself.
Ending The Diet Mindset: Reclaim a Healthy and Balanced Relationship with Food and Body Image
Becca Clegg LPC, CEDS
Softcover, 143 Pages