Today is National No Diet Day, and I am all-in to celebrate. Few things make me angrier than when we buy into the lies that society feeds us about our self worth and our bodies.
Going on a diet is almost a rite of passage for women. Berating our bodies and bemoaning our perceived defects has become a team sport.
While traditional weight-loss fads have fallen out of style, the diet industry has wizened up over the past few years, touting their methods as wellness or lifestyle shifts. These methods continue to promote body dissatisfaction which can be dangerous for many women.
If thinness is the end goal, health will never be the result.
Recently, I stumbled upon a post promoting one of these “healthy” lifestyle plans. When I read the “encouraging” message, I shook my head in disbelief.
“Don’t let life derail your eating plan!” it proclaimed.
Don’t let your LIFE derail your eating plan? What about when your eating plan derails your life?
When I was a teenager, I went on a “harmless” diet that spiraled into a decade-long battle with disordered eating. Because of our society’s disordered view of food and thinness, I never realized I had a problem. Everyone around me praised my weight loss saying, “You look great!” What these well-meaning friends and family members didn’t know was that I skipped meals, obsessively weighed myself, counted calories, and feared every bite I took. They affirmed the narrative that was so deeply ingrained in my faulty thinking: the thinner I could become, the more acceptable I would be. Thinness was my shot at belonging. Dieting was my hope of getting there.
Years later I now know I want to live a full life, free from guilt, fear, and restriction around food.
So why should we ditch dieting for good?
Diets can lead us to compromise our community
A huge part of living in community revolves around breaking bread together. When I was on a diet, I couldn’t go out to eat spontaneously with a friend. I always had to pick the restaurant and would ask the waiter 47 questions about how they prepared the food when we ordered. This caused huge spikes in anxiety for me and kept me from being present and enjoying the people I dined with. Eventually, it caused me to say “no” to dinner plans with friends, leaving me isolated and alone.
Diets often lead to dangerous habits, and they often don’t work
Dieting often serves as a precursor to eating disorders, according to Eating Disorder Hope. “The National Eating Disorders Association reports that 35 percent of “normal dieters” progress to pathological dieting, while 20-25 percent of those individuals develop eating disorders,” Eating Disorder Hope reports. My eating disorder started as a simple desire to lose weight, but that wasn’t where it ended—and it isn’t where it ends for millions of Americans. Additionally, diets often don’t work. According to research cited by the National Eating Disorder Association, an estimated, “95 percent of all dieters regain their lost weight within five years.”
Diets rob us of our resources
I cringe when I think about the resources I squandered riding the dieting hamster wheel for over a decade. I sometimes imagine what I could have done with this time, energy, and money instead of obsessing over food and worrying about my body. Then I remember one of my favorite quotes from Maya Angelou, “When you know better, you do better.” After years of therapy and realigning my values and actions, I now “do better” and live a life that is congruent with my beliefs.
To fully ditch dieting for good, we need to find peace with food and our bodies.
Intuitive eating, the glorious approach coined by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, was my saving grace in healing my relationship with food and my body. This method, coupled with therapy and lots of prayer to help me accept my changing body shape and size, helped me relearn to trust, work with, and care for my body. Intuitive eating looks different for each individual and varies based on medical conditions. Generally, intuitive eating means learning to listen to your body’s true hunger and fullness cues, allowing yourself to eat all of the foods that you enjoy without guilt, and integrating healthy movement into your days.
Intuitive eating may sound like a recipe for failure: I laughed the first time I heard the phrase, thinking it sounded ridiculous and unattainable. For years I distrusted food and my body, how could I trust my intuition? If I let myself eat one cookie without guilt, how would I ever stop? Disordered eating had hammered my intuition out of me for years, and I was unsure if I could revive it, let alone follow it.
I remember being in a session with my therapist, bemoaning the fact that babies were more advanced at intuitive eating than I was. It felt unfair to have to learn this, well, intuition. I had to rewire my beliefs that food was either “good” or “bad” and that my body had to be a certain size or shape for me to be lovable. I had to question where all of these lies came from over the years. Then I had to tear them down and replace them with things that were good and true. It took a lot of intentional work, accountability, and grace (and as it turned out in my particular case, eating a lot of muffins).
I know this may sound hard, but I can promise you this hard-earned freedom is worth it. To laugh and eat a cupcake at a friend’s birthday, to order a side of extra fries on date night, or to make my favorite arugula salad for lunch—these moments are full of joy for me now. I can trust my body as it was created. I no longer turn to our disordered world with questions of my worth because I know my value. I am whole. I am at peace with food and my body. If you ditch dieting for good, I believe you can be too.
Author's Note: Rock Recovery is joining the National Eating Disorders Association to support No Diet Day to encourage the rejection of diet culture and the elimination of shame associated with society’s standards of beauty and respect for all body shapes and sizes. Join in at https://www.rockrecoveryed.org/event/no-diet-day/