The Non-Diet Approach: How to Break Free from the Exhausting Cycle of Dieting

women with tape over her mouth looking at donuts

You feel discouraged and let down.

Yet again, the big promises of the new diet have fallen short.

You were doing great at first, following all the rules, and then you fell off the wagon.

You might have lost a few pounds to start with, but then you gained it back.

You want to feel good about yourself. You want to be healthy and love your body.

I’ll show you how.

First, Know This

They were wrong.

Fad diets don’t work long-term.

Most fad diets focus on some form of restriction. Restriction actually leads to overeating—the exact opposite of what you want. 

Restricting yourself and telling yourself no, also leads most people to feel dissatisfied with their bodies, and they find themselves preoccupied with thinking about food. 

Researchers have found that people who plan on dieting will eat more in anticipation of the restriction.

Yes, you read that right. Just thinking about it is enough to increase your desire to eat.

Researchers also find that telling yourself you can’t or shouldn’t eat certain foods may actually intensify your cravings. 

Some eat more when feeling guilty about eating the foods on the “naughty list” because they tell themselves they won’t be able to eat it again.

The New New Approach

The non-diet approach. 

You may have already heard the term. 

But what does it mean? In short, it’s going back to the basics.

The non-diet approach is more about lifestyle.

Your lifestyle choices can be about variety, balance, and moderation instead of restriction, avoidance, and desperation.

You will need to learn to listen and trust yourself and your body. It may be challenging initially, but it will get easier over time.

What Does It Look Like?

It looks like you listening to your internal cues. 

It looks like you mindfully or intuitively eating.

This is not counting calories, weighing food, or eating at certain times. It’s not about restriction (unless you have a medical condition that doesn’t allow certain foods).

Allow yourself to become gently hungry before eating, then eat until you’re comfortably satisfied.

With traditional diets, food is labeled as good or bad. The quantity and quality of the food are determined externally by calories, weight, etc. 

With the non-diet approach, all food is acceptable. The quantity and quality are not determined by something external but rather internally. It’s determined by how your body responds. Some signs to look for are your hunger, fullness, taste, cravings, and your body’s comfort.

Focus on eating as a response to the signs your body gives you of hunger, fullness, and cravings. Start to be aware of how your body feels and choose foods that make it feel the best, honoring your hunger.

Take the focus away from the scale and focus on how your body feels when you eat certain foods and do certain activities. Instead of focusing on your weight, you are tuning into your body’s wants and needs.

But What If You Can’t?

What if you don’t trust yourself yet? 

You’re not ready to trust your hunger, fullness, and cravings?

What would that look like if you gave yourself full permission to enjoy your food, eating what you crave when you crave it (even the “naughty” foods)?

Do you imagine you’d be eating an entire box of donuts or a whole bag of chips?

Perhaps at first.

If your dominating belief is you can’t trust yourself around a particular food, then expect yourself to overeat it.

Start to explore what’s fueling this belief. 

Perhaps because you don’t allow yourself to enjoy the donuts while eating them, your cravings are increased by the guilt you’re experiencing.

You might find it odd at first, but try this experiment: Give yourself full permission to eat your favorite foods when you crave them. In the beginning, it might seem scary and make you anxious, but you may find this results in feeling less out of control in the end.

Eating donuts all day, every day, might get old after a while. Although right now, it might be hard to imagine. When you eat your donuts (or your favorite food), eat them mindfully. Refrain from being distracted while watching TV because you could eat the whole bag of donuts before you realize it. Turn off the TV and distractions, and make a conscious effort to enjoy your food. Pay attention and slow down. You may find that without distractions, negative emotions start to arise, like loneliness or sadness, and food was a way to help with that. Watch and listen to how your body feels while eating the food and how you feel afterward.

More research supports this concept of habituation; eating the same food over multiple days may decrease the desire to eat the food.

The Struggle Is Real

There’s a constant internal battle that dieters are going through.

If you give yourself full permission to enjoy satisfying foods, this may help to end the struggle. Most dieters start “being good” at the beginning of the day and then fall off the wagon later in the evening to satisfy the deprivation that’s been building all day. Deprivation and guilt make it hard to be aware of your internal cues. Hunger, fullness, and cravings are the internal navigation system that tells you how much to eat.

Thoughts and worries can disrupt this natural internal navigation system.

Being preoccupied with how much fat, carbs, or calories are in a food you’re about to eat, you miss that your body is actually craving a salad, water, or something else. 

The trick is to turn off your thinking brain and listen to your body’s wants and needs. 

Cravings don’t just show up for the “bad” foods. They also show up for the foods and nutrients your body is missing.

Free Yourself From Diet Culture

It’s been proven that diets are not long-term solutions. A non-diet approach is more conducive to sustainable, long-term changes.

One of the non-diet approaches is the Health At Every Size® (HAES®). The HAES® framework has five principles: weight inclusivity, health enhancement, respectful care, eating for well-being, and life-enhancing movement.

Try this experiment of implementing the non-diet approach and start to reduce the stress and fear associated with food. Create a healthier relationship with food. Enjoy feared foods in moderation. 

Select food and physical activity based on enjoyment and pleasure.

Begin to trust and love your body again. 

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