If Not Dieting, Then What? 4 New Years Resolutions That Aren’t About Weight.
December 23rd, 2019 by Sara Upson
With 2020 just over a week away it’s the time of year where everyone starts thinking about how next year will be different. About what they’ll do differently and how it will be an all new year and an even an all new you.
Diet culture really reinforces this belief by saying that you should recreate yourself- start a new diet, get “healthier”, have a new way of eating, go sugar free, detox, low carb, plant based- etc, etc. The list goes on and on
According to a 2019 Research and Market report, The diet industry is a now worth $72 billion dollars. $72 billion dollars. Let that number sink in.
It’s no wonder why you feel pressure to diet and change your body. There’s an entire industry worth billions that is focused on making you feel inadequate and insecure- that you must change your body- so that you will buy their product or service. And, if that’s not enough- diet companies know that you know that diets don’t work- so they’ve started rebranding, changing their platform and using new language to say that they’re not a diet but all about wellness, getting healthy, and self love. When in reality it’s still a diet.
But it’s not just the diet industry. It’s entertainment, the medical field, powerful marketing companies and the cultural beliefs at large all wrapped up together to create diet culture and the message that you must do something about your body. That you’re not enough. That there’s always something to fix or do better. The truth is though- you don’t need to diet and you are enough as you are!
Diet culture is a trap- diets don’t work. You probably already know that- but it’s worth repeating! And technically, diets do work in the short term and most people can lose weight on any diet (but that doesn’t mean it’s healthy). However, long term- looking at outcomes greater than 2 to 5 years, diets have a 95-98% failure rate. Meaning that people will loose weight but then gain it back. 66% of people will gain back more weight than they lost. When medicare was looking for a program to recommend for weight loss, their review of the literature concluded, “dieters were not able to maintain their weight losses in the long term, and there was not consistent evidence that the diets resulted in significant improvements in their health…It appears that dieters who manage to sustain a weight loss are the rare exception rather than the rule.”
Weight cycling is only part of the harm caused by the diet industry and diet culture. Dieting also leads to feeling out of control with food, guilt, shame, deprivation, loss of hunger and fullness cues, stress, eating disorders, increased food thoughts, digestive concerns, fear of fat and weight gain (fat phobia), healthisim, and costs you precious time, energy and money. You may feel confused because they very reason you’re dieting is to improve your health or have more time when in reality it’s a cycle in futility.
Many people know that diets don’t work, that they’re harmful, but then they feel confused because they don’t know what to do. If you’re like most people you feel out of control with food, uncomfortable in your body, desire change, think you lack will power, motivation and self control, and believe that you need to do something right now to improve your health and lose weight. (That’s what diet culture and the diet industry reinforce).
You can work to improve health (if that’s something important to you) and not focus on dieting or weight loss! (Remember health is not a moral obligation and doesn’t define your worth- that’s healthism.) So if you’re thinking, okay I’m not going to diet but then what- here are some ideas for you.
1. Reject Diet Culture
The diet industry and diet culture are toxic. They’re harmful to your health. They convince you that something’s wrong with you so that they can profit off of your insecurities. Then they offer a solution that they know won’t work long term and will likely even lead to more weight gain. Then they blame you when the diet doesn’t work and tell you it’s your fault for not having enough will power or motivation. Then they try to sale you another diet. It makes me angry to think about how deceptive and manipulative the diet industry is.
So- instead of buying in to diet culture and dieting, make a commitment to reject diet culture. Say no to the cultural values of thinness and the pursuit of the thin ideal. Call out fat phobia and fear of weight gain. Work on body acceptance, reconnecting with your body, and learning a new way of life that is free from diets and diet culture. Check out my free guide to get started here.
2. Focus on Intuitive Eating
Intuitive eating is an approach to eating that helps to shift your perspective around food from dieting and rigidity to freedom and permission. Intuitive eating has 10 principles to help guide you from external control with dieting to internal connection with intuitive eating.
Where a diet tells you what, when, and how much to eat with lots of external rules intuitive eating says that you are the expert of your body and helps you reconnect to what feels best to you. (Kinda like how you were born- intuitive and listening to your body).
Intuitive eating helps you make peace with food. It helps you: reject the diet mentality, recognize and challenge old food rules, give yourself permission to eat, make peace with all foods (especially those that you feel most out of control with), reconnect with your body to relearn hunger and fullness, learn how to seek satisfaction and choose foods that sound appealing to you, reconnect with exercise, appreciate your body and lean self compassion. Pretty amazing right. Also scary for many people.
Intuitive eating is a process, it takes time. It’s hard to give yourself permission and unlearn all the old food rules that you had in the past. It can be frustrating and lead to feeling more out of control in the beginning. But hang in there. It’s worth it. Working with someone who specializes in intuitive eating, the book and workbook can be helpful.
3. Focus on Health Behaviors
By shifting the focus off of weight you can begin to focus on health behaviors. Health behaviors are actions. They’re steps that you can take or do to improve your health.
Weight is not a behavior. It’s not an action. It’s not something you can do. It’s just a measure of the gravitationl pull on your body. It tells you nothing about you as person, your worth, value or even your health. As discussed above, focusing on weight tends to lead to weight cycling, feeling worse about your body and food. And it doesn’t improve health either.
By working on health behaviors, you improve your health regardless of whether or not you lose weight. An example of health behaviors includes exercise, food, sleep, stress management, not smoking, social engagement, seeking medical care. All are behaviors or actions that you can take to improve or impact health or mortality. The goal with these behaviors is improving health and well-being, and you can focus on these behaviors without focusing on weight
It’s easy for diet culture to convince you to go on another diet because it conflates dieting with health. The reality is diets don’t actually improve health behaviors. And a diet is such a narrow view of health. Health is multifaceted and complicated and there are many factors outside of your control.
Instead of focusing on diet culture version of health- try choosing a health behavior which leads to improved health and well-being and isn’t about weight. It makes a big difference. To learn more- check out body respect.
4. Work on Self Compassion
Self-compassion is extending kindness to yourself during moments of perceived inadequacy or failure. It’s something that we’re often not taught and it’s something that I see almost everyone struggle with when they also struggle with their eating. (I would say most people in general struggle with self compassion, but I’m reflecting on what I see in clinical practice.)
Self compassion is often perceived as being weak, self pity, or wallowing. But it’s not those things at all. Self compassion is treating yourself with kindness and validating your feelings and experiences. It validates your struggles and reminds you that struggling is part of the human experience- and that no matter what you are still worthy of kindness and respect.
Self compassion goes much further than willpower, motivation, criticism, or negative self talk. And, the best news is that it’s a skill and it can be taught. You can practice and learn self compassion. If you’d like to learn more I recommend these books.
Self compassion is a much more valuable goal or resolution than weight or anything from diet culture. An it even helps improve health. Self compassion turns of the shame response and helps to reduce stress and inflammation.
It can be hard to shift away from weight when it seems like everyone or most people are still trapped in diet culture. It can be hard when diet culture is so loud and everywhere.
You don’t have to diet.
The thing to know is that you don’t have to diet and you can still focus on health, well-being and taking care of you while not dieting or restricting. As you give up dieting you might feel lost, overwhelmed, afraid, unsure what to do- and that’s okay. Dieting has given you structure, guidance and a sense of safety for quite some time. It’s scary to leave something- even if it’s harmed you- because it’s a known harm and it’s comfortable. Know that when you’re ready there is space free from dieting where you can reconnect with yourself and still take care of yourself.
There are plenty of solutions or steps you can take when not dieting- it just may not feel that way at first. And the amazing thing about these 4 points above is that intuitive eating actually includes all of them- so a focus on intuitive eating rejects diet culture, focuses on health behaviors, and self compassion. It’s really a win-win. Just be careful because intuitive eating was named the number one wellness trend for 2020. Next week I’ll be writing about how to identify fake intuitive eating.